Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Predict Unpredictability

This morning I saw an article on the Sky Sports website in which Jenson Button claimed this year's unpredictability in the 2012 F1 season is bad for the sport, and will ultimately drive fans away. This was somewhat of a surprise to me, as personally this unpredictability is making the sport more - not less - exciting for most of us fans out here.

The 2012 F1 season has thus far seen 6 different winners in the six races. Jenson Button claimed the first win in Australia back in March, followed by Fernando Alonso in Malaysia, Nico Rosberg in China, Sebastian Vettel in Bahrain, Pastor Maldonado in Spain and Mark Webber in Monaco this weekend. This is the first time that we've seen such an opening to the season in F1 history - and yet Jenson believes this is a bad thing?

Admittedly, Jenson did have a point in saying that we couldn't see who had the best car this year. But, I disagree that this is bad for the sport. In having such variability, we might get a chance at seeing whose driving skill is better at any particular race. Maldonado's win in Spain highlighted that even if you don't have a dominant car, you can still win a race. Whether this is also down to the variability of the tracks suiting different cars is another point, but all of these factors together mean that the races are not a foregone conclusion.

If we think back to 2011, when Sebastian was so dominant, I recall seeing much more complaining that Red Bull were destroying the unknown element to the championship. We all knew that Red Bull and Sebastian would win the championship. This year, there are six drivers within one race win of each other, with Button one win and a 7th place just behind. So, when you have seven drivers in contention for the world championship, surely this is better than having a one-horse race. Admittedly, I loved the 2011 season - I am somewhat biased as Vettel is my favourite driver. Plus, the racing last year arguably made up for the fact that we often knew who was going to win before the race even started. So, having the racing of 2011 plus the unpredictability would surely bring more fans to the sport, rather than driving them away?

Further in the Sky article, Martin Whitmarsh also disagreed with Button and spoke of opinion a few years ago when the racing was seen as processional. Indeed, when Schumacher was so dominant, winning seven world titles, many fans were put off, as it was clear who would win without even watching.

So, while it may be annoying for drivers to not know where they stand race by race, and while it's also annoying for statisticians and betting companies, who would like at least a partial element of predictability; unpredictability is not a bad thing for the fans. I say let the championship continue as it is, and bring the question of who wins the titles down to the very last race. How can anyone fail to be hooked on this year? If you want to know who's going to win, you have to watch the races! Thus, we should expect the unexpected, predict the unpredictable and let the races play out as they will. Who knows what we'll see in the rest of the season?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Schumi's Return and F1 History

I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone who isn't enjoying the 2012 F1 season. Over the past couple of years, we've seen new regulations to make F1 more of a spectacle in terms of the on track racing and the two championships, and I think we can safely conclude that these changes seem to have worked. Formula 1 in 2012 appears to be one of those years that we're going to remember for a long time: Six races in and the season is already making F1 history, with six different winners in the first six races. Could we ask for more right now?

This weekend saw the magnificent Monaco grand prix, arguably the most glamorous and prestigious events on the calendar. Monaco is one of the classic F1 venues along with Spa and Silverstone, and in terms of the spectacle of F1 Monaco has to be leading them all. Thursday's practice sessions (no practice on Fridays in Monaco so that the public get their streets back for a day) didn't lend us any clues as to who would be quickest in qualifying, so Saturday remained a mystery.

When quali day came around, many people were egar to see who would be on pole, and whether we'd finally settle into working out who was the fastest team. Well, we had no such luck in this respect, but we did get one of the biggest surprises of the year: Michael Schumacher took pole position! This was the first time since Schumi's return that he'd topped a qualifying session, and it was an absolutely joyous moment for the Schumi fans out there. Sadly however, Schumacher had to start the race not from the number one slot, but from sixth owing to a penalty carried over from the previous race. Still, many of us were delighted that Schumacher had finally proven he could still drive a racing car. With Schumacher's penalty, it was Mark Webber who started from pole position, closely followed by Nico Rosberg. Hamilton and Grosjean followed the top two, in turn followed by the Ferraris of Alonso and Massa - Massa's best qualifying all season. Vettel chose not to set a time in Q3 for the second race running, preferring instead to save his tyres, set sector times and qualify 10th (9th with Schumi's penalty), behind Raikkonen and Maldonado. Jenson Button was a surprise casualty in qualifying, ending up 13th behind Kobayashi and Hulkenberg. So, once again quite a jumbled up grid for the race.

The race seemed to divide opinion somewhat, with many claiming that it was processional, while others claimed they thoroughly enjoyed it (me being in the latter condition). We did have a fair few incidents at the start of the race: Grosjean spun his Lotus after contact with Fernando Alonso, leading to his retirement. He almost caught his car up with Sebastian Vettel, but luckily Vettel managed to take an escape route and avoid any collision. Alonso managed to escape the incident unscathed. However, Schumacher's luck seems to have been out during the races, and he got caught in the incident with Grosjean. While he managed to continue into late into the race, eventually a problem surfaced with his Mercedes and he retired once again.

From there on in, the order was pretty much stable, with Webber leading followed by Rosberg, Hamilton and the Ferraris. Massa showed surprising pace, and looked like a different man in the race this weekend. In fact, he was quite often faster than Alonso, prompting Twitter to collectively shout 'Fernando: Felipe is faster than you'! Vettel had an amazing recovery from his dismal qualifying session, opting for a different strategy from the rest of the top runners. By staying on the soft (prime) tyre, rather than the super-soft (option) tyres, he managed to leave his pit stop much later. Eventually, he finished in fourth place ahead of Hamilton and Massa.

The final few laps of the race were interspersed with rain, making the race just a little more tense. The pace dropped off, prompting Toro Rosso to bring in Jean Eric Vergne for the intermediate tyre, however this was a gamble which cost them valuable points as it simply didn't rain enough to warrant these tyres. The front runners slowed to such an extent that we had six cars within a couple of tenths of each other, making the last five laps of the race pretty awesome to watch. Sadly, Monaco is not a track which warrants much overtaking and so the status quo remained, and Webber took the chequered flag for Red Bull's second victory of the season (the only team to take two wins so far), and make F1 history by having the sixth different winner out of six races. Rosberg and Alonso took the final places on the podium.

So, with Monaco over the teams head off to Canada in two weeks' time. The way the season is at the moment means it's impossible to pick a favourite for the coming races. While I'm sure this prompts annoyance from those who like consistency and stability, if you're a fan of F1 there isn't a better time to follow the sport. Will we see seven different winners in as many races? It's hard to tell, but with this season so far, anything could happen and I'm sure none of us can wait to see it!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Fantastic Five

There's no doubt that 2012 has seen some fantastic racing in F1. The last race from Bahrain was spectacular, and every race seems to set the bar higher every time. If the season carries on at this pace, then we're definitely in for one that will be remembered for a very long time.

Qualifying in Spain on Saturday was again a mystery. The practice sessions this year don't seem to have given any indication as to which man will take the top spot of the grid. One thing is for sure though, the qualifying sessions this year are no longer the foregone conclusion of Vettel and Red Bull. This definitely makes things more interesting, but I must admit I'd be happier seeing the Red Bulls a little closer to that number one spot. In Spain, we got quite a shock result for quali - Pastor Maldonado on pole position, Williams' first pole since Hulkenberg in 2010. Admittedly, Maldonado's pole was granted to him after Hamilton was excluded from qualifying (due to a team member not putting enough fuel in the car to get it back under its own steam after the quali lap), but even for a Williams to occupy the second position spot is a feat to be proud of. The line up of the grid was completely unpredictable, and I think you'd struggle to find anyone who honestly would have told you the result. Maldonado took pole, with Alonso second and the Lotuses of Grosjean and Raikkonen third and fourth. Sauber also fared well in quali, with Perez taking fifth. Close behind were nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel, after Seb chose to not set a time and save his tyres. Schumacher, Kobayashi and Button made up the top ten, with Webber eventually lining up 11th.

So as you can see, a pretty mixed up grid, making for what was an absolutely spectacular race. Alonso had a great start, as everyone thought he would. However, it transpired that Alonso couldn't turn this into a win - instead, Williams took the highest step on the podium with Alonso finishing right behind. The last few laps of the race were thrilling with the Maldonado/Alonso shoot-out, and credit has to go to Maldonado for not getting too intimidated and hanging on to that first position - honestly, if there's one man you don't want to be chased by it's Alonso, as he's definitely one of the best drivers on that grid. Add to that the fact that Alonso was at his home grand prix, and I don't think you'd find many men who could stand the pressure that Maldonado faced. Raikkonen eventually took third place in another great finish for Lotus, and I think it's fair to say that had the race gone on for much longer Raikkonen would have been right up in the fight between Maldonado and Alonso. With that finish, we had a Williams, Ferrari and Lotus on the podium for the first time in many years, and five different winners for as many teams in as many races. Williams can be proud of that victory, and I'm sure Frank Williams had the best birthday present he could have hoped for. Credit also has to go to Hamilton - from the back of the grid he finished 8th. I was also pleased to see that after his penalty Hamilton acted with good grace, and simply said he wanted to enjoy the racing. Of late, Hamilton's been slightly down and almost mopey in press conferences, but I'm hoping that we're now getting back to seeing the old Lewis, and we can start to focus back on his amazing driving abilities.

With the race over, we obviously expected to see no more drama until Monaco in two weeks' time. However, a large fire broke out at the Williams garage while the team were celebrating and listening to a speech from Frank Williams. The fire looked absolutely horrific, and several people had to be taken to hospital. Luckily, it appears that everyone was ok, although it's a sad way for the Williams team to end such a brilliant weekend. The team lost a lot of equipment during the fire, but other teams have offered to help by donating their extra equipment. It just goes to show how much of a family the F1 circus is, even if it's a competitive environment. Honestly, we could all learn a lot from these guys!

Now that this weekend is over, F1 heads to Monaco for one of its most celebrated races. The best part for me is that once F1 lands in Monaco, I'll be done with my exams, and free to blog and watch the racing uninterrupted. So, well done to Williams, and bring on the next race!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

One Happy Red Bull Racing Fan

In my last post, I wrote about my 20th birthday and the 1 year anniversary of beginning this blog. I wanted to say thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday - despite having an exam and an injection (as part of my research over the summer) I had an absolutely fantastic day with my friends and family. So all in all, a brilliant start to my twenties. I even had a motorsport theme to my birthday card from my parents:

Well, just when I thought that it couldn't get much better than this, today I had the biggest surprise of my life. On returning to my PC after lunch, I checked Twitter. I had a fair few new followers. This was strange, as the number had jumped in between me having lunch and returning. Scrolling down the page, I notice a tweet from @RedBullF1Spy, Red Bull's mysterious paddock reporter. What did the tweet say? Well, read for yourself:

Now, I've had a lot of birthday greetings this year, and all of them are special, but this one has absolutely made my day, week, month...! As you know, I'm a big fan of Red Bull, and I think it's things like this that make the team so special.

So, thank you Red Bull and thank you Sebastian! You've made an F1 nerd very happy, and I will be seeing you at Spa!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

One Year

Well, today is my 20th birthday. I feel like this birthday has been hanging around for some time, and it's kind of odd that it's actually arrived at last. My 20th birthday is kind of a landmark, as it is in this decade that I (hopefully) get my PhD and become a Doctor of Neuroscience. Scary and exciting stuff!

This birthday is a bit of a far cry from my 18th birthday though. Rather than chucking a Subaru rally car around a gravel stage and doing a handbrake turn at exactly 3:45 in the afternoon (the time I was born), this year I will be sat in an exam room writing about personality psychology. Ah well, some you win, some you lose. Come to think of it, even my 19th birthday had a motorsport theme, as it was the day of the Spanish Grand Prix, and I sat in front of the TV wearing all of my Red Bull Racing apparel enjoying the race. Still, this weekend I'll get to watch the race and make up for lost time a little.

Anyway, this is only a quick post as today also marks another special day - it's exactly one year to the day since I started this blog. I've had lots of good feedback from many people, including racing drivers, journalists and my friends and family alike. So, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been encouraging me to write over the last year! Rest assured that this blog will keep going, so hopefully next year we'll have another milestone post. Thanks everyone!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012


Well, it's less than a week before my first exam, and today the inevitable stress reared its ugly head and lead to me having a temporary loss of motivation. I know that this is a motorsport blog, and I keep rambling on about exams but hear me out, there's a link to F1. Over the past month, I've done little else but revision. I've watched the odd spot of motorsport on TV, but apart from that I've mostly been reading about Freud, the brain and personality. As much as I love studying and working towards my ultimate goal of a PhD, a whole month is somewhat taxing as I'm sure you'd all agree. So, today's mini-breakdown probably wasn't that much of a surprise. Of course, what's anyone meant to do when suffering from a loss of motivation other than call their Mum?

On phoning my Mum and telling her about how much pressure I was putting myself under, and how it was stressing me out, she said something which gave me kind of an epiphany, and now I'm back to my old self and looking forward to the exams. Most students I know would be begging for this sort of inspiration, but I have a hunch that it would only work for me. Now, for those of you into motorsport who have been patiently reading and wondering what the hell I'm on about, here's where F1 comes into it.

As you've probably guessed from my picture and pretty much all the posts on here, I'm a fan of a certain German Red Bull Racing driver - Sebastian Vettel. One of the (many) things that I admire about him is his ability to always have a smile on his face, despite criticisms from the media and despite having bad days at the office so to speak. In fact, this is probably the main reasons why I'm such a fan of Vettel's, ever since his Toro Rosso days he's had this perspective on his career, and it shows in his performance. The focus that he has when he gets into the car is also another huge point of admiration right there, and I have often tried to replicate this in my studies and in my approach to exams.

Sure, my exams aren't as exciting as driving an F1 car through Eau Rouge at high speed, however like Vettel I do have a career riding on my performance. So, the level of focus that Sebastian has means he's somewhat a role model for my own performance. Well, today it seems that I've had a bit of a lack of the other quality of Vettel's - the ability to carry on and be cheerful, even if things aren't quite going 100%.

My Mum reminded me of this today, and it definitely made me realise that taking the perspective of Vettel and being 100% focused to the task at hand, no matter how well it's going or not, keeping an eye on the end game (for Vettel, another world championship, for me, a PhD) and managing to shrug off when things aren't going so well is probably the best way in which to approach my exam.

My Mum also pointed out another driver who perhaps doesn't take this perspective despite having comparable talent: Lewis Hamilton. When Lewis first came into F1 in 2007, he had the same view as Vettel, and was always cheerful and could shrug off bad days. This quality paid off, and got him the championship in 2008 (of course, this quality and his supreme driving ability). However, after getting the championship and having a somewhat rougher year in 2009, Lewis kind of lost the 'keep calm and carry on' approach that he had before, and things just didn't seem to go his way. Last year in particular, Lewis would often get out of the car in a huff when things didn't go so well - the Massa incident being one of those times. Luckily, Lewis seems to slowly be returning to his old self, although the sulking because of a third place spot on the grid was kind of annoying.

So, the upshot of the conversation with my Mum? Be more like Vettel, and don't turn into Hamilton. I know, it's not exactly something you'd hear at an academic support workshop, but it works for me. I have a Vettel calendar this year, and the month of May shows Vettel holding his trophy in Australia last year. I'm hoping that this will remind me to adopt Vettel's cheerful and focused approach in my exams, and will win me the good results of the exams. If this carries on throughout the rest of this degree, then I'll have the equivalent of my driver's championship, my PhD, within the next 6 years. If I can pick up trophies along the way, then great, but whatever happens I'll be happy with good results; Just like Vettel. That's what I'm talking about!