Month: April 2015

The Inside Line #98: Age is just a number

TILI Logo Print1997. For some of us, 1997 doesn’t seem like that long ago, so to think we have a driver on this year’s F1 grid that was born the year of Jacques Villeneuve’s world title almost seems impossible. But Max Verstappen, born on September 30 of that year, has made the transition to F1 look relatively simple. Sure, the drivers’ standings say he’s scored just six points in the opening quartet of races, but at no stage have I watched him on-track and thought “well, he’s just 17”. No, he’s just a Formula One driver, a promising one at that, and someone who looks like he belongs already. And perhaps one with that something special, that little bit extra that’s hard to define, but makes perfect sense when you see it.

You hold your breath with some drivers in wheel-to-wheel combat – I find myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat whenever Pastor Maldonado is about to find himself in a dice [1] – but others have it down pat. Remember how many times Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso found themselves disputing the same piece of tarmac late in Webber’s career? Sure, it was usually because Webber had made a horrific start and was returning the Red Bull to its rightful position near the head of the field while Alonso was driving the wheels of a Ferrari that had no business being near the front, but it was regular and it was compelling. And it wasn’t just at Eau Rouge in 2011 either [2]; the two good mates seemed to be forever squabbling as they tried, usually in vain, to chase after Sebastian Vettel. Never once did you think they’d hit one another; they had the right combination of talent, bravery, class and composure to ensure a hard, tough scrap could also be a fair one, and one where both drivers would be able to continue their races once it was over.

It’s only been four races, but Verstappen has shown signs already that we should be able to enjoy his overtaking for the next decade or more. His race in China was sublime, one pass after another coming before (no, really) a Renault engine detonation halted his charge to the points [3]. Add his decisiveness in traffic to his obvious speed and body language that exudes confidence, and he’s a keeper. Just whom he drives for in the future will be fascinating as the older drivers move on and the balance of power between constructors shifts. Red Bull is his next obvious destination, assuming he’d want to go there at the moment or if the team still exists … [4]

A look at the rise of Verstappen is the focus of Episode 98 of ‘The Inside Line’, while another newcomer, Felipe Nasr, takes us behind the scenes of Sauber’s factory in Hinwil, amongst other features in this week’s show.

You can see the show on Fox Sports 5 and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

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[1] Takuma Sato, who I always had a soft spot for as he was one of the most decent drivers in a paddock not exactly overflowing with them, was like that too. “I will do 100 per cent maximum attack!” when asked of his plans off the start for most of his races with Super Aguri was the best.

[2] The more times you watch this, the more bonkers it is. The ramifications of this being out by even 2cm don’t bear thinking about.

[3] And produced the comedy moment of the year when the Chinese marshals attempted to get Verstappen’s car into the pit lane by repeatedly bashing it against the concrete wall, presumably to remove pesky bits of front wing that were getting in the way.

[4] A link from a few weeks ago, but well worth a read by Will Buxton, a journo who always tells it as it is. For those keeping score at home, Red Bull now hasn’t won a Grand Prix for – gasp – 11 races. By contrast, McLaren’s last win came at the US Grand Prix of 2012 (43 races ago); Williams has won a single Grand Prix since Brazil 2004. Just stating the facts …

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Formula 1: How to win the online race

Let’s be honest; US-based Formula One fans have to be devoted or insomniacs, or both. Formula One may be the world’s most prestigious and highest-profile category of four-wheel motorsport, but the endless expansion of the series’ calendar to far-flung destinations has made it increasingly difficult for American fans to keep up. What was once ostensibly a European-based series with a few exotic races thrown in now sports Grands Prix in destinations as far afield and diverse as Abu Dhabi, Japan, Malaysia and Bahrain. The 2015 calendar packs 19 races in as many countries between March and November, but fewer races than ever are held in US-friendly timezones.

With TV broadcasting rights for F1 tightly restricted and the 200-plus countries that televise the sport receiving the same cookie-cutter approach to vision provided by commercial rights holders Formula One Management (FOM), the web has become the primary alternative source of information for the sport’s devotees. But like the rules that govern the sport itself, following Formula One online can be confusing, a mess of dead-ends, faux Twitter accounts and tabloid press beat-up stories that can seemingly contradict themselves between paragraphs. The challenges for US-based fans are (a) where to get the best information from the coalface in a timely fashion, and (b) how to interact with the sport a long way from its beating heart in Europe. Fortunately, help is at hand – which is where I come in.

By way of background: I’m a British-born, Australian-raised and international freelance sports reporter who has covered F1 for close to two decades. As a fan of Formula One first – and a time-poor Formula One media person in my professional life – knowing where to go for my F1 online fix and where to avoid is something that has taken no small amount of research and plenty of trial and error over many years. And it’s only right that I share that knowledge with like-minded fans.

I’ve put together a Formula 1 News playlist on Speedette that’s a collection of the who’s who of the sport from a media perspective as well as the best sources of information for F1 news. It’s a news aggregator, for lack of a better term. Yes, it has room for improvement, as does Speedette – more on that later. But it’s simple to use and concise; better than that is its ability to cut through the sources that don’t matter to find the ones that do. So let me take you on a lap and point out some of the things I’ve included along the way.

Formula One is, at its core, a British sport; British drivers and teams dominate Formula One’s 65-year history books, and it’s no surprise that the best sources of F1 information originate from the UK. My Formula 1 News playlist taps into Autosport, long considered the oracle of the sport in print and web form, and while its news-gathering is impressive, its database may be even more so. FORIX, Autosport’s statistical hub, is quite staggering for its depth, while those with a technical mind or interested in the business side of the sport can engage with the likes of Craig Scarborough and Dieter Rencken, renowned world-over as the must-read writers in their respective fields. The BBC website and the F1 content offered by Sky Sports (which sends an army of staff – more than some of the F1 teams! – to every Grand Prix for some of the most comprehensive coverage of sport anywhere in the world) is also available at a click.

My colleagues in the travelling Formula One press corps have earned their stripes – F1 remains one of the most difficult sports to gain press access to – so reading the words and listening to the opinions of the true insiders is increasingly valuable as F1 teams remain more tight-lipped about their secrets of speed than ever. My Formula 1 News playlist taps into the blogs of the media kingpins: BBC Radio’s James Allen, a broadcaster who honed his skills working beneath the voice of F1 for so many decades, Murray Walker; Joe Saward, a renowned author with more than 40 years of Grands Prix under his belt and an endearing world-weary cynicism to his writing; premier newsbreaker Adam Cooper, whose blog is compulsory reading; former Williams and Ferrari team manager and long-time reporter, the encyclopaedic Peter Windsor; and Will Buxton, one of the more forthright younger writers in F1’s travelling troupe.

If Buxton’s name sounds familiar, it should; he’s been a key part of NBC’s coverage in the US for the past three years, and while NBC’s online presence could be better, Buxton’s personal blog more than makes up for its shortfalls. NBC could take heed of ESPN’s F1 offering; in a familiar template style that is the bedrock of all ESPN sites, the experienced Irish journalist Maurice Hamilton offers instant credibility and a global view of the sport along with a contacts list that ensures he has access to anyone in F1 that matters.

As those who have attended a Formula One race can attest, the passion and voices of the fans drive the following in the sport to a different level, and Keith Collantine’s F1 Fanatic blog might be the best of the many that have popped up in recent years. Its forum of like-minded fans are ever-ready to engage in a spirited discussion on the sport’s biggest issues, while Collantine’s exhaustive trawling of news sources prominent and obscure make his daily round-up posts essential reading.

That room for improvement I mentioned? Glad you asked. Yes, my Formula 1 News playlist has the stories behind the sport covered from the perspectives of the professionals and the enthusiasts. But if you’re looking for the sport’s drivers, ex-champions and insiders on social media, you won’t find it here – Speedette, as yet, has no Twitter interactivity. YouTube remains a black hole for F1 – FOM’s insistence at removing fan videos to protect its broadcasters at any cost is a constant bugbear for F1 fans – so don’t expect Speedette to fill that void. And it’s not just moving pictures that miss out; F1 is undoubtedly one of the world’s most spectacular sports photographically, but you won’t see any examples of that – or any photos at all – in the playlist. It’s words – and lots of them – and that’s all. For some, that may be a gripe – a minor one, but a gripe nonetheless.

Given the global reach of F1, the sport remains very much a made-for-TV product, which is a great shame as television arguably dumbs down Formula One more than any other sport. You don’t get the smell, the exhilaration, that otherworldly sensation of speed, that feeling when your heart beats that little bit faster when 20 cars capable of 200mph sit restlessly still on the starting grid, awaiting the start of a race and the frantic rush to the first corner, by sitting in your lounge room. There really is nothing like being there. And in the US, ‘there’ is a venue that looks set to stand the test of time.

F1 struggled to find a permanent home in the US for years before arriving at the spectacular Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in 2012; it’s an undulating, challenging track that hosts what has quickly become one of the sport’s best-attended races, while with Mexico City coming back onto the calendar this season after a 23-year absence, there are two Grands Prix within relatively easy reach for the hard-core American fans. But the time needed and expense incurred to attend a Grand Prix in person remains a stumbling block for many, which is where my Formula 1 News playlist comes in.

For a small investment of time and no financial outlay, it will help you cut to the chase. You’ll be better informed, need less coffee and be able to bank more sleep for those early-morning or late-night race start times as the sport criss-crosses the globe. Since I created it, the playlist has changed the way I interact with one of the most intriguing, complex sports of all. Try it. To my mind, and unlike F1 itself, everyone’s a winner.

Check out my Formula 1 News playlist

The Inside Line #97: Playing the wrong cards 

TILI Logo PrintNico Rosberg is clearly a bright guy. Technically astute, multilingual, likely to study engineering if the Formula One thing didn’t work out, and so on. But sometimes you can be too smart for your own good [1], and it seems that old maxim applies this F1 season.

The game was up with Rosberg when he looked startled at the negative reception he received on the podium in Belgium last year; Rosberg may be a lot of things, but a tough guy or the villain he isn’t. Since then, he’s been little more than a pushover for Lewis Hamilton; on the occasions they’ve duelled on track, it’s been no contest, and Rosberg’s response in China when he felt Hamilton was backing him into third-placed Sebastian Vettel and leaving him vulnerable was, quite frankly, that of a desperate driver out of answers. For a smart guy, playing the ‘my teammate is making life hard for me’ card when you simply can’t get or stay in front of him was about the dumbest move imaginable, and one that elicited little sympathy [2].

Since Belgium last August, it’s been a rout in favour of Hamilton; only once (in Brazil last year, when Hamilton spun and still finished in Rosberg’s wheeltracks) has the German finished ahead of the world champion in the 11 races since. Rosberg’s resilience made last year’s championship compelling viewing as Hamilton looked like cracking at several stages; four races into 2015, there’s every indication the drama will be minimal this time around. Hamilton has a certain steel we’ve not yet seen [3]; Rosberg is a shell of what he was this time last year. With nobody else having the equipment to properly challenge Mercedes, Rosberg has the added responsibility of keeping up interest in the wider sporting world in F1 this year by raising his game [4]. And, in falling more than a race wins’ worth of points behind his teammate after four Grands Prix, he isn’t.

We still have 15 races remaining, but Bahrain last weekend simply reconfirmed that it would be a shock if anyone besides Hamilton took the 2015 title. A comprehensive review of all the action at the Sakhir International Circuit takes centre-stage on Episode 97 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week; check out the show on Fox Sports 5 and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

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[1] On a related point: I wasn’t aware of the karma bus until I was on a bus (not the karma one) talking to a colleague in a time of difficulty in 2011. And he’s right, the karma bus does keep rolling … right over the people who deserve it.

[2] The British press were at their cheerleading worst after China, but for once I didn’t mind when it came to giving Rosberg the clip around the ears he deserved. What I did mind was the reluctance to apportion any blame whatsoever to Jenson Button for running Pastor Maldonado off the road late in the race. Yes, we know Maldonado is an erratic pay-driver who makes a million mistakes and shouldn’t be on the F1 grid, but he was innocent this time, perhaps for the first time. Put the pom-poms down and retain some credibility, please.

[3] Although his hair leaves a lot to be desired, apparently.

[4] I keep getting asked about F1 being ‘dead’ in Australia because of (a) the disappearance of live coverage to pay-TV this year and, to a smaller extent, (b) Daniel Ricciardo’s dip in results through little fault of his own. It’s a wider issue that warrants longer discussion that I can give it here, but my broad view is that if you’re a big enough fan of something or want to see it badly enough, you will. If that means sacrificing something else so you can pay to see it, then that’s what is required. Nothing more, nothing less. Should Australian fans (like much of the rest of the world, remember) be paying to see F1? Probably, given global trends. Is it affordable over a month? If you’re prepared to make some changes elsewhere in your life, probably. The quality of what we now get on Fox with the Sky Sports feed from the UK is the sort of coverage Australian fans have been desperate for and demanding for years. And now we have it. Time to put up or shut up.

The Inside Line #96: Knowing his place

TILI Logo PrintSo, that didn’t take long, did it? If Lewis Hamilton’s aim was to demoralise and annoy Nico Rosberg in Shanghai last weekend, consider the job well and truly done. Leading every practice session, taking pole, leading every lap of the race and taking fastest lap en route to a win is as emphatic as it gets, and Rosberg’s response after the race smacked of a man who knows the game is up. It’s been a rout in favour of Hamilton since the Rosberg/Spa collision last year; Hamilton clearly has his teammate where he wants him off-track as well as on it, and it’s hard to see that changing any time soon.

A comprehensive review of round three of the season in China is the centrepiece of this week’s episode of ‘The Inside Line’, while we also preview the back-to-back race in Bahrain and, well, not a lot else. Hey, we only have 23 minutes and 45 seconds to fill after all.

Check out Episode 96 of ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports and ESPN in Australia this week, and check local guides to watch elsewhere.

 

The Inside Line #95: Inspired by the Iceman

TILI Logo PrintIn this week’s episode of The Inside Line, we preview the forthcoming Chinese Grand Prix, wonder if Nico Rosberg can arrest an alarming statistical slide against Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the circuit where he broke through for his first victory three years ago, and look at how Christian Horner put his foot in his mouth before Red Bull was lapped by the winner for a second straight Grand Prix in Malaysia. Plus Kimi Raikkonen talks (really) about new teammate Sebastian Vettel and, well, other stuff between mumbling.

Catch Episode 95 of ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports and ESPN in Australia this week, and check local guides to watch elsewhere.

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Footnote: in the tradition of a Kimi Raikkonen interview, welcome to the new, succinct, easy-to-digest blog plug for the show. It may last just one week, but here it is. Time is money after all. Thanks.