Joe-Pinions: Sports

18 Aug 2010 – Formula One Drivers’ Mid-Season Review (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 18/08/2010

Let us return to our F1 Drivers’ Mid-Season Review.

(If you missed part one, click here.)

Williams-Cosworth

Rubens Barrichello – If Rubens Barrichello were a tree, he would be an evergreen.  How else could you classify a man who is 4 races shy of 300 Grand Prix starts as I write this?  In what is undoubtedly a young man’s sport, the 38 year-old Brazilian is something of a phenomenon.

Typically, by the time a Formula One driver reaches his mid-30s, he has started the inevitable slide into decline.  It’s true for almost all athletes, no matter what the sport.  One’s physical skills naturally deteriorate with age, and in a sport like auto racing, especially in a category as demanding as F1 where reaction time is critical to razor-sharp car control, that can be a significant handicap.  Somehow, though, Rubens has managed to stave off his own obsolescence and remained competitive.

Before last year’s performance with Brawn, which was as unexpected as it was amazing, Rubens was never really a driver one thought of as a potential World Champion.  He has always been fast, but was never seen as someone as ultimately quick in the mold of a Hakkinen or a Hamilton or a Senna.  Not only that, but he never ever developed a true “killer instinct” that many champions all seem to inherently have; he is just really too much of a “nice guy” to be a World Champion.  Much better than a journeyman, but far from a consistent threat to win a Grand Prix, he reminds me a lot of Giancarlo Fisichella.

On a small team, like Jordan or Stewart, he flourished.  He beat his teammates more often than he got beat, but more importantly he never rocked the boat.  He also developed a good reputation for being a driver who provides good technical feedback, which is a boon for any team, but especially a small one seeking to improve its car as the season wears on.

On a big team, though, Rubens seemed to be victimized by his own good nature.  His years as Michael Schumacher’s teammate amounted to something akin to indentured servitude.  He was sometimes good enough to beat Schumacher in a straight fight, but due to contractual stipulations was often not allowed to exploit his Ferrari’s significant advantages (advantages that he, as a better developmental driver than Schumacher himself, had a great role in creating and sustaining) if it meant he would get a better result than his teammate.  When he finally left Ferrari and found his way to Honda, he had the misfortune of getting on board a ship taking on water.  The Hondas he drove were so bad, not even a future world champion (Jenson Button) could do much with them.  And yet, as a mark of his quality as a grand prix driver, Barrichello and Button often fought to a standstill, neither one establishing a position of dominance over the other during their shared tenure with Honda.

His year at Brawn, though, rejuvenated him.  2009 showed he still had fire in his belly, fighting against Jenson Button, sometimes even daring to express his displeasure at times when he thought he was being aggrieved by unfair treatment by his team’s management (Ross Brawn was the boss of Ferrari’s race day strategies when he was paired with Schumacher).  Sadly for Rubens, perhaps he sometimes thought his performances were better than the reality of what the stopwatch indicated:  He just isn’t quick enough, often enough, to really be a World Champion.

Williams, though, is a good fit for Barrichello.  Paired with a highly-rated rookie hotshoe, he (somewhat surprisingly) has settled into a very comfortable role as the team’s lead driver.  He has out-qualified the highly-fancied Nico Hülkenberg 7-3 and finished ahead of the German rookie in the races 8-2 in the first ten grands prix.  Makes you wonder about just how much is left in Rubens’ tank, even as he rapidly approaches his 300th Grand Prix start.

Williams long ago lost its status as one of the big teams fighting for race wins on a consistent basis, but with Barrichello on the team it looks to be improving at each and every grand prix.  His expertise as a test and development driver alone would have justified his place with the team; showing his young teammate the way around at an astonishing strike rate (80% in the races) is a huge bonus.

Nico Hülkenberg – The young German rookie is a mystery to me, to be honest.  He comes into Formula One with a formidable reputation, primarily as last year’s GP2 champion, the Formula Three Euroseries champion in 2008, and a hugely impressive A1GP championship in 2007.  Three championships in three different categories for three straight years strongly suggests that what we have here is a very talented racing driver with the so-called “right stuff.”  Graduating from his part-time post as Williams’ 2009 test driver role to a racing seat is a logical progression, but even if you don’t indulge in the foolish expectation that Hülkenberg would then take the Formula One Drivers’ World Championship in a 2010 Williams at his first crack, his track record suggests that here is a very bright light to shine on the grand prix stage for years to come.

Strangely, though, Hülkenberg has been eclipsed by his very experienced teammate, Rubens Barrichello.  And it’s not as if Barrichello has only barely beaten Hülkenberg; it’s a dominant beat-down that casts doubt on Hülkenberg’s potential, at least in my own mind, at the highest levels of the sport.

It’s difficult to comment on Hülkenberg since he hasn’t really warranted a lot of attention for his performances in Formula One so far.  Running in midfield doesn’t attract the attention of the TV coverage, and the specialist press that follows and covers the Formula One circus tends to focus on the leading lights and the hottest rumors and controversies that are part and parcel of F1.  Two points finishes (two points for two P10s) in the first nine races, gained not through breathtaking speed or dynamic racecraft or cunning tactics and strategies but through luck and attrition don’t warrant much attention, sadly.

There’s very little logic to why Hülkenberg is being so comprehensively dominated by old man Barrichello.  As Williams’ test driver last year, he should be far more intimately familiar with the nuances of the FW32 than Brawn refugee Rubens Barrichello.  As the younger driver, he should have a stronger need to prove himself.  Younger drivers tend to take more risks, to push harder, than more experienced drivers; often this willingness to take bigger risks will be manifested in quicker lap times and better results at the end of the race.  To me it’s frankly quite bizarre why Hülkenberg looks so ordinary, especially his history as a championship-caliber racer in all his previous steps up the ladder to Formula One.

Who’s better? – The question is simple enough to answer:  Barrichello is leading this race, and it’s not even close.  If anything, this intra-team competition begs this question:  Is the performance gulf more because of Barrichello’s (under-appreciated) talent combined with his vast advantage in experience being much greater than any and all of Hülkenberg’s positive qualities, or is there another (yet unrevealed) factor which explains why this competition is so one-sided?  Barrichello is good, but compared to Hülkenberg he almost looks like an all-time great.

Renault

Robert Kubica – If there is one driver other than Mark Webber who has really impressed me thus far this year, it is Kubica.  The Kraków native’s performances in the Renault have flattered the yellow Anglo-French car (the team is based in both Viry-Châtillon and Enstone), making it a consistent points scorer and top-ten qualifier in almost each and every race this year.  Consequently, he has raised his profile even more, rumored to be in the running for a seat at Ferrari to replace Massa; he is undoubtedly Renault F1’s most valuable asset at the moment.

Not much was expected from Renault this year, coming off a 2009 season which saw its flamboyant former team principal, Flavio Briatore, receive a lifetime ban, its highly-respected technical director Pat Symonds a five-year ban, and title sponsor ING depart as direct consequences of one of the worst scandals Formula One has ever seen.  Even without the humiliation from Singapore 2008, the team’s form was undoubtedly in decline.  To top it all off, Fernando Alonso, who won his first two titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, decided to leave the team for Ferrari.  There was a real possibility that the team might have left Formula One after last year’s embarrassments, and Kubica, who had confirmed his decision to join Renault well before the end of the 2009 season, might have consequently been out of a ride for 2010.

There were no shortage of offers for Kubica’s services during that unsettled period when a firm commitment from Renault to continue as a factory team in F1 was still forthcoming.  Notably, Toyota was quite keen to secure the Pole’s services for 2010; the fact that Toyota had since decided to leave F1 strongly suggests that its decision whether to stay or leave the category hinged in some significant part on whether or not they could acquire Kubica from Renault.

But Toyota wasn’t the only team interested in Kubica.  According to F1 Magazine, McLaren was also interested in him, many weeks before turning their attentions to the 2009 World Champion, Jenson Button.  However, Kubica himself wasn’t impressed with how McLaren had indicated its interest in him, intimating that McLaren’s posture of presenting the possibility of joining the team was more akin to McLaren offering him a handout.  Kubica’s refusal to join McLaren under such terms where the team from Woking had assumed far too much of a position of superior leverage surprised many; how many drivers in motor racing would ever refuse McLaren’s overtures?

If nothing else, the McLaren episode shows Kubica’s strength of character, his unassailable self-belief.  It is a powerful self-confidence, and one thankfully devoid of hubris.  You get the impression that here is a man who has a certain dignity and self-respect.

Happily, Renault decided to stay as a factory team in Formula One and reorganized the team’s management structure.  For his part, Kubica avoided losing his place in F1 and got down to business.

And how.

Few expected good things from Renault this year.  Its V8 is considered inferior compared to the Mercedes, and its chassis far from the best at any type of circuit.  Many pundits felt that it would be fighting primarily for midfield positions.  The slower of its two cars, driven by rookie Vitaly Petrov, has usually been amongst the midfield runners, occasionally mixing it up with the drivers fighting over the lowest points-paying positions (P9-P10).  That by itself is fairly impressive given the dire straits the team found itself in.

Kubica, though, consistently has his Renault in more rarified company.  In the first ten races, Kubica has qualified no worse than ninth.  More impressively, in six of the first ten grands prix this year he has finished in a better position than his grid position.  No other driver in 2010 can make a similar claim.  Finishing third in Monaco after qualifying a 2010 Renault in P2 is hardly something to be ashamed of; neither is a drop from P7 in qualifying to P8 at the end of the race in the Spanish Grand Prix.  In the season opener in Bahrain, he spun and dropped to the back of the field, then recovered to finish 11th (after qualifying in P9).  The only real blot to his remarkable record through the first half of the season was the British Grand Prix when his R30 had a driveshaft failure that put him out of the race whilst fighting against Fernando Alonso.

Robert Kubica is the driving force behind Renault’s surprisingly strong first half to 2010.  He had amassed 83 of Renault’s 89 points up through the end of the British Grand Prix and finished twice on the podium (P2 in Australia and P3 in Monaco).  In terms of doing the most with the least (I hardly consider the Renault to be on par with the McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari, or even Mercedes), Kubica is hard to beat through the first half of the 2010 season.

I wonder what he could have done in the McLaren against Lewis Hamilton…

Vitaly Petrov – All things considered, Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov has done a fair job as Renault’s second driver through the first half of the 2010 Formula One season.  He started out his Grand Prix career with three straight DNFs (two mechanical failures and one driver error), then scored six points with a P7 in a very wet Grand Prix of China.

Sadly for Vitaly, his impressive 7th place in Shanghai was to be the high-water mark (pardon the pun) for the first half of 2010.  The remainder of the first half of the season highlighted the fact that he is a Formula One rookie driving a difficult car.  After China (the fourth GP of the year), he finished out of the points and squarely in mid-field:  P11 (Spain); P13 (Monaco); P15 (Turkey);  P17 (Canada); P14 (Europe – Valencia); P13 (Great Britain).  Not only were his race results a bit disappointing, but his qualifying performances suffered when compared to his teammate’s.  Granted, Robert Kubica is one of the year’s most impressive performers thus far, but Petrov has been thoroughly dominated through the first ten races of 2010 10-0.

Things could be a lot worse, of course.  At least Petrov hasn’t been so slow as to be amongst the backmarkers.  He is driving the Renault to the best of his ability which, considering the fact that he started his racing career rather late (according to his Wikipedia entry, he didn’t race go-karts as most of his competitors did in their formative years), is respectable.  He obviously cannot be bereft of talent, as he finished as runner-up to Nico Hülkenberg in the 2009 GP2 championship.

He is currently under pressure to produce much better results and is facing the possibility of losing his seat at Renault.  Perhaps this is an unfortunate consequence of being paired with Robert Kubica, one of the category’s brilliant lights.  A better car, one with higher performance that is also easier to drive, will do wonders to help Petrov improve his results; ironically, this will also exaggerate the gap between himself and Kubica.

Who’s better? – Kubica is the unquestionably better driver.  He has completely dominated qualifying, and when they both finish the race, he has always finished ahead of his younger teammate.  Kubica has the obvious edge over Petrov when it comes to experience, but more than that it appears that he also has more natural ability to drive a racing car.  Petrov, of course, will improve with experience.  Unfortunately, Renault may not be prepared to wait long enough to allow Petrov to grow, especially since he appears to lack the potential to push, much less beat, Kubica on a consistent basis.

Force India-Mercedes

Adrian Sutil – When I think of Adrian Sutil, two things about the 2009 Grand Prix of Brazil at Interlagos come to mind:  His wet-weather prowess, and his unfortunate race-ending accident with Jarno Trulli on the first lap.  These two images are Sutil in microcosm and define him for me in the simplest terms.

Just how good has Sutil been in the wet?  He took third on the grid in the 2009 Grand Prix of Brazil, when much of qualifying was run in a Sao Paulo downpour.  He did this in a Force India-Mercedes VJM02, a car which was very fast in a straight line, but lacked grip and downforce in medium-speed and slow corners.  He did this in the same race when the eventual 2009 World Champion, Jenson Button, floundered onto P14 on the grid with the Constructors’ World Championship-winning Brawn BGP 001; he did this in the same race Button’s championship runner-up, Sebastian Vettel (himself an acknowledged wet-weather meister), could only manage sixteenth on the grid in the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull RB5.

There have been other occasions when Sutil displayed his wet-weather superiority.  He clawed his way up the order after qualifying in P18 for the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix.  The start of the race was wet, but even so, on a circuit where overtaking is almost impossible in the best possible conditions, Sutil gained fourteen positions and was running strongly in fourth very late in the race when his Force India was clobbered from behind by Kimi Raikkonen and was eliminated.  The previous year, Sutil impressed yet again by scoring a point for Spyker (Force India’s name prior to 2008) in Fuji, site of the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix which was run in a cataclysmic monsoon.

I think that Sutil’s wet-weather abilities are the best amongst the current crop of Grand Prix drivers.  Only fellow German Sebastian Vettel is close.   Sutil’s performances in the wet are all the more impressive since he drives for Force India, a team that, while it is steadily improving, is really still at least a step or two away from the top teams.  I wonder how his performances in the wet would be better still if he was driving a Red Bull or a McLaren instead.

But as good as Sutil has been in the wet (he finished 11th in the 2010 GP of China, out of the points, but qualified a brilliant 4th in the wet in Malaysia), he also seems to have a penchant for attracting trouble during the races.  The unfortunate incident in Monaco 2008 is one example.  There are two more memorable examples in 2009, in Spain and, more spectacularly, in Brazil, when Sutil was collected by Jarno Trulli.

The incident in Brazil, in particular, highlighted Sutil’s curious tendency to be involved in spectacular accidents which were not his fault.  On the Reta Oposta straight, Mark Webber chopped across Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and damaged the red car’s front wing.  Behind Raikkonen, Sutil saw what had happened and lined himself up for an overtake going into the Turn 4 and 5 double left-hand complex.  Sutil executed the maneuver, but was sufficiently slowed by Raikkonen, allowing Jarno Trulli to get alongside him on the outside of Turn 5.  Trulli had all four wheels on the exit curb, still slippery after the weekend’s rains, and lost control of his Toyota.  The Toyota speared violently left and punted Sutil’s tail, causing the Force India to spin into the muddy grassy infield, totally out of control, whereupon he collided with the completely innocent Fernando Alonso.

From the sublime (his mastery over wet weather) to the ridiculous (his penchant for being involved in too many first lap mishaps, even those caused entirely by others), Adrian Sutil is a bit of a conundrum.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure how to rate him and his performances this year.  Too often, and in too many areas, one is forced to say “if only” with him:  If only his skills in the wet (which suggest he’s got top-level car control and sensitivity) also translated themselves on a dry track; if only he beat his teammates (this year, it’s Vitantonio Liuzzi) more decisively on the stopwatch, even if the results tally has him miles ahead; if only he didn’t get collected in someone else’s accident every few races; if only he drove a better, less specialized car (the Force India tends to perform better on circuits where high downforce is not so important).

If only things were that simple…

Vitantonio Liuzzi – “Tonio” won’t ever be mistaken for a Grand Prix winner, much less a genuine World Championship contender.  After fifty-four Grands Prix over five seasons (only three of which are complete; his fourth season, in 2009, he joined only after Force India lost Giancarlo Fisichella to Ferrari after the GP of Belgium), he has earned only seventeen World Championship points, twelve of which are from the 2010 season and its “inflated” points system.

It’s not as if Liuzzi is a driver whose place in F1 should be questioned.  He is a World Champion in karting (2001) as well as the last International F3000 champion (2004), so clearly he’s got solid skills, speed and racecraft.  You simply don’t win championships in motorsports if you don’t have enough of “the right stuff.”

Unfortunately, in Formula One, it appears that you need even more of this undefinable “right stuff” to propel yourself into the realm of consistent race winners and, eventually, World Championship contention.  Some drivers, while qualified in terms of skill, may be found wanting in terms of attitude:  They may not be aggressive enough, ruthless enough, determined enough, to compete for wins and championships.

To me, Liuzzi appears to be just happy to be in F1, not really caring enough to push harder to beat his most direct rival (his teammate).  He has never struck me as a super-competitive animal out on the circuit.  Only twice in the first ten races has he beat his teammate Sutil (not counting the Australian Grand Prix, which Sutil failed to finish due to an engine failure) in the race and in qualifying, coming out on top in Monaco and Canada.  The trouble is, Sutil doesn’t appear to be an elite-level talent; Liuzzi, in comparison, suffers greatly since he’s getting killed in the direct comparison 80% of the time.

Who’s better? – Sutil over Liuzzi, unquestionably.  Of the two, it appears that Sutil has more potential for greater achievement.  It’s hard not to be impressed with the wet-weather driving skills and be tempted into thinking that perhaps there is even more potential to be found within.  The problem is that Liuzzi doesn’t appear to really push Sutil hard enough, often enough, to drive Adrian further.  Sutil has the look of a driver who seems content to just come out ahead and not try to prove he is someone special, so it’s impossible to gauge just how much potential is being left untapped.

Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Sebastien Buemi – The list of Swiss Formula One drivers is not a very long one.  Not since the pathetically slow Jean-Denis Délétraz “raced” (I use the verb very, very loosely) for the Keith WigginsPacific team in two events (the Portuguese and European Grands Prix) in 1995 has anybody from Switzerland competed in F1; it has been far longer, three and a half decades in fact, since a Swiss national was even a serious World Championship contender (the late, great Clay Regazzoni finished second in the Drivers’ World Championship to Ferrari teammate Niki Lauda in 1974).

Sebastien Buemi, then, doesn’t seem to be weighed down too much by the weight of a nation’s expectations the way modern German F1 drivers might be, or the way British or even Italian drivers always seem to be.  Nevertheless, the young Swiss driver (all of 21 years old as I write this) seems to possess just enough speed and skill to justify his place in the sport’s top category.

Very little about Buemi is flashy or spectacular, even though he did what so very few drivers in the sport’s history do in his debut race:  He scored points by finishing eighth in the 2009 Australian Grand Prix.  He also out-qualified his first teammate, Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais.  In fact, more often than not, he beat Bourdais in both qualifying and the race up until the Frenchman’s dismissal from Scuderia Toro Rosso after the 2009 German Grand Prix.

On its own, outclassing Bourdais is an impressive suggestion of Buemi’s potential; however, this is clouded by the lack of clarity regarding Bourdais’ own capabilities.  After all, Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car championships in the USA.  F1 purists might sneer at the quality of Champ Car as an open wheel racing category, but that is conveniently dismissing the fact that Champ Cars are incredibly powerful and fast racing machines.  In other words, it still takes a good driver to do well in Champ Cars, much less dominate as Bourdais did in the category.

Buemi looks like a sensible racer, never extending beyond his car’s capabilities nor his own.  He has been involved in a couple of first lap incidents, but for the most part he will bring his Toro Rosso home to see the checkered flag.  This suggests a maturity far beyond his twenty one years.

Jaime Alguersuari – As young as his teammate Sebastien Buemi is, Alguersuari is a year and a half younger.  In fact, the Spaniard now owns the record for being the youngest man to ever start a Grand Prix (his age when he took over from Sebastien Bourdais in the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix:  19 years, 125 days).  What can you expect from a teenager driving a Formula One car?

His early racing career is a bit uneven, punctuated by a championship in the British Formula 3 series in 2008.  Though some participants in this very category have gone on to mighty achievements in Formula One (Mika Hakkinen and Ayrton Senna were both British F3 champions before they also became F1 World Champions), it’s far too early in Alguersuari’s F1 career to wonder about whether or not he has the necessary ability (he certainly doesn’t have the necessary experience yet) to be a consistent race winner, much less a World Championship contender.

He did outqualify Sebastien Buemi in Hungary on his debut, but his inexperience not just as a Formula One driver, but as a racing driver as a whole, is a handicap at this stage of the game.  He has occasionally beaten his teammate (Bahrain, Malaysia, and Turkey) when both finished the race, but is behind his teammate in Drivers’ Championship points, 3-7.  This is not an indictment of Alguersuari, nor damning evidence of his sheer inability to do the job.  If anything, his performances in a mediocre second-tier car suggests that perhaps he has got more raw ability than he’s showed so far.

There is something very intriguing about Alguersuari, a hint of a spectacular type of talent.  Up until the Grand Prix of Hungary, he has yet to race the same F1 circuit twice; for him to beat his teammate who has the benefit of prior experience on a circuit is hugely impressive.

What can a little more seasoning, and a better car, do for Alguersuari?  It’s a tantalizing question.

Who’s better? – For now, Buemi looks like the better driver.  He certainly is the more experienced.  But there is a hint of something a little special with Alguersuari, a certain panache.  Both drivers are actually quite excellent for a small team like Toro Rosso, since they are both very eager to impress.  For the most part, both are very sensible and will bring their cars home to see the checkered flag.  Both Buemi and Alguersuari have potential to be bigger players on the Grand Prix stage.

F1

Next time:  Reviews of our final batch of drivers:  Jarno Trulli, Heikki Kovalainen, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna, Pedro de la Rosa, Kamui Kobayashi, Timo Glock, and Lucas di Grassi.

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10 Aug 2010 – Quickie Status Update

Posted in Uncategorized by txtmstrjoe on 10/08/2010

Just a quick status update:

Been stupidly busy lately, especially at work.  I often can spare enough mental energy whilst in the office thinking about the next posts here.  But lately that has been more challenging than usual due to the dramatic increase in my workload.

So, an apology for the massive slow-down in my output in this blog.

Trust, though, dear readers, that I’ve not been idle.  I’m in the middle of drafting the last two parts of the F1 Drivers’ Mid-Season Review.  It’s already a few weeks late, but I’m sure it’ll all be done in about a week’s time.

Honestly, it’s a great exercise to churn these big F1-related entries, as F1 is one of my favorite sports.  As the American autumn approaches, though, I’ll devote more time and energy to both football (not soccer, just to clarify) and basketball.

I wish I could muster a similar enthusiasm for baseball, but the truth is it’s quite difficult since the team I like best (the Oakland A’s, though I have a very healthy respect and regard for Mike Scioscia and his Angels) is having yet another miserable year.  This largely explains my indifference for the MLB this year.

Be patient, dear readers.  Your humble scribe needs to catch his breath a bit, then it’s back to the grindstone.

4 Aug 2010 – Formula One Drivers’ Mid-Season Review (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 04/08/2010

Although Formula 1 is touted as “the pinnacle of motorsports” because of the ultra-high levels of technology in the sport, to me F1 is what it is because of the human element.  In particular, the drivers in the cars are what fascinate me the most.

The following is a purely personal assessment of the drivers participating in the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship.  The reviews will be based on their performances up until the end of the British Grand Prix, which represents the halfway point of the 2010 season.

A disclaimer:  Perhaps inevitably, my reviews of the leading lights will be longer and more detailed than the drivers who constitute the back end of the grid.

Here are the first four teams’ driver pairings:

McLaren-Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton – The 2008 F1 World Champion found himself in the lead of the 2010 championship at the season’s halfway mark.  He had a steady, if unspectacular, start to his 2010 campaign, scoring podium places in Bahrain (P3) and China (P2) and points finishes in each race except for Spain, until he took back-to-back victories in Canada and Turkey.  He also took another second place in his home race at Silverstone to round out the first half of the season.

Hamilton has shown a new maturity to his driving.  He appears to have shed an occasional tendency to overdrive past his car’s limits (as he did at Monza in 2009), resulting in a more consistent finishing record.  Except for his bad luck in Spain, when an unexpected puncture caused him to crash out of a strong second place, he would have finished every race in the points.  He tends to maximize his car’s potential as well in both qualifying and in the races, but looks to lack a true top-drawer ability to sort the car and provide feedback to his engineering crew to help them develop his car as the season progresses.

Hamilton has been gaining momentum as the season progresses, which suggests that he is growing stronger and driving better.  This is hugely impressive, as most drivers tend to start strong and gradually peter out.

Jenson Button – The defending World Champion left the comforts of a familiar situation at Brawn (now Mercedes) GP to join “Lewis Hamilton’s team,” which prompted many pundits to assume that he had committed career suicide.  Not only was there no way he could match Hamilton’s basic speed, but surely he would wither under the pressure of trying to compete against the McLaren incumbent Hamilton.

These pundits underestimated both Button’s speed and his psychological strength.  The early races saw him actually out-qualify Hamilton, until the Monaco Grand Prix started a streak where Button lost to his teammate in qualifying four straight times.  After nine races, the score between the two most recent World Champions and McLaren teammates is Button 4 – Hamilton 5.

But qualifying is just one aspect of the competition between the two teammates.  The World Championship is won based on the results from Sundays, and in this regard Button has done well enough to take second place in the points standings at the halfway point.  In terms of wins, both he and Hamilton have two.

He may not be as ultimately quick as Lewis, but he wins races not with superior speed, but with superior cunning and intelligence.  In a style reminiscent of Alain Prost, Button’s silky-smooth driving style sees him routinely use his tires much more efficiently than most drivers on the grid, enabling him to run longer on even the option tires.  This often allows him to leap past several opponents who have to pit earlier than he does, which means that he overtakes other drivers with the least possible risks.  It’s not a spectacular way to do the job, but it definitely works and highlights Button’s superior understanding of the big picture.

Who’s better? – I think Hamilton is shaping up to be the better of the two McLaren drivers.  Their performances in recent races all have been going Hamilton’s way, which suggests he is doing a better job adapting to a changing car and increasing competitive pressure in the chase for the championship.  He does have the advantage of knowing McLaren inside and out, so that’s one less factor to fight against.  Button, though, is not far away at all, although he needs to either do a better job of setting up his car to suit himself more, or to learn how to drive harder and faster than what he’s comfortable in doing.  Unfortunately, Button isn’t wired to push harder than what his car will do.  To beat Hamilton he needs to both adapt to the car more effectively and learn how to adapt the car to his driving style.

Mercedes GP

Michael Schumacher – The seven-time F1 World Champion returned to the sport after a three-year absence.  Some predicted that, despite the long layoff, he would soon find himself at the sharp end of the field as if he had never left and show his young teammate Nico Rosberg and most of the other runners how things are done.  In reality, though, Schumacher has only shown that his absence dulled his driving enough so that he frequently found himself in mid-pack while unfortunately retaining the unsavory aspects of all his previous years at the front.

Schumacher’s time away inevitably put him out of touch of the latest developments in car design.  2010 F1 cars are quite different compared to the 2006 cars in so many ways:  2010 cars are now shod with slick tires, while the bulk of Schumacher’s halcyon days were run with grooved tires; today’s cars no longer refuel during the race, which entails a totally different approach to racing compared to the multiple-sprint format encouraged by the 1994-2009 era of F1; aerodynamics are much more sophisticated, even compared to what was available in 2006.  No matter how great of a driver you are (or were), it’s inevitable that there will be a period of adjustment involved when you spend time away from such a technical/technological sport as F1 is.  Niki Lauda’s history bears this out, as he took a little more than two years to fully adjust to the turbo era after his multi-year semi-retirement.

So Schumacher’s results are inevitably weighed against some rather unrealistic expectations.  It shouldn’t be surprising that he has been beaten, if not exactly dominated, by his teammate Rosberg at almost every race this year up until the halfway point.  To his credit, most times he is just a few tenths away from Rosberg’s times in qualifying, which is fairly impressive given his time away from the sport.  But then again, he still is a seven-time World Champion, so he must have a very high talent level.

Nico Rosberg – In some ways, Nico Rosberg is in a no-win situation.  For one thing, he is Michael Schumacher’s teammate.  Because Schumacher had what was effectively a three-year sabbatical away from F1, Rosberg is expected to beat him.  So when he does, which he does with regularity, it’s only Nico doing what he’s supposed to do.  Never mind the fact that Schumacher is a 7-time World Champion; Michael was away from the sport for a few years, so the excuse works in Schumacher’s favor and not necessarily Rosberg’s.

Rosberg gets no extra points for beating Schumacher.  He would get a lot more credit, though, if he dominates Schumacher.  Unfortunately, a three-year absence doesn’t rob someone completely of his ability to drive an F1 car quickly; it only dulls the formerly super-sharp edge somewhat.  Rosberg would look a lot more impressive if he was beating Schumacher by more than a half-second, even more, each time out in qualifying; Nico would enhance his reputation so much more if he was challenging for wins and lapping his teammate, instead of curiously never being involved in any of the major battles for position at the front of the field.

Part of Rosberg’s problem is his car.  The Mercedes MGP W01 is a good car, but is far from exceptional.  It seems that its most impressive feature is its unique split engine air intake design.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t improve the car’s handling capabilities.  The MGP W01 looks like it’s not using its tires to maximum effect, unlike the Red Bull (or even the Ferrari).  Consequently, the drivers lack the platform to truly showcase their capabilities.  In this way, Nico truly is in a no-win situation, except if he somehow becomes the beneficiary of multiple troubles hitting all of the frontrunners in a race this year.

Nico needs to assert himself more, especially outside the car.  He particularly needs to have a stronger presence insofar as influencing the team’s design direction.  This year he has the excuse of being a newcomer into the team.  He’s gotten into a car with Jenson Button’s design DNA; it’s possible that their respective driving styles are incompatible with each other, resulting in a car that’s not optimized to take advantage of Rosberg’s strengths as a driver.  Schumacher is a very strong personality, and if Rosberg doesn’t have a reinforced iron will, Michael will take the initiative and have next year’s car designed to suit his driving style; Nico needs to show his team’s technical staff that they should design next year’s car around HIM.

Who’s better? – Rosberg is beating Schumacher.  Nico’s is not a dominating performance, but it’s enough to maintain a solid gap between himself and Michael.  Schumacher will get lucky now and then, perhaps at Spa, but Rosberg should continue to stay ahead in the results table.

The key to this driver pairing, though, is whose influence on next year’s car’s design is more profound.  Logic says the team should devote more of its attention to Rosberg.  He’s younger and is performing better than Schumacher is.  Plus Schumacher’s driving style is so unique and specialized, it’s a good bet that none of his tailor-made design requirements will be exploited by any future drivers for Mercedes.  However, seven world championships and a strong personality are hard to ignore…

Red Bull-Renault

Sebastian Vettel – He’s already been called “Baby Schumi” by some in the press, but that’s doing Vettel a disservice.  If nothing else, it denies Vettel any chance of defining his own place in the sport’s history.  Also, insofar as I can see, he’s shown himself to be very different compared to Michael Schumacher.  Aside from nationality and the fact that they’re both very very quick drivers, it’s not so easy to find similarities between the two.

Of course, the biggest difference is in the résumés of both men.  Where Schumacher’s list of accomplishments is far longer than Vettel’s entire racing history a few times over, Vettel is still just trying to find his way in Formula One.  Given the pole positions he has won, especially this year, and the race wins, it’s fairly easy to imagine that Vettel has the potential to approach, if not actually equal and surpass, his countryman.  Such is the blessing of accomplishing much while in the full flower of one’s youth.

Of course, youth has its pitfalls.  While Vettel has already achieved more in terms of wins (7) and pole positions (12) in less than sixty Grands Prix than some World Champions have for their entire careers, one gets the impression that he is still immature as a racing driver.  For example, while he does have seven grand prix victories so far in his career, it’s difficult to remember a race when he had to pull off an overtaking maneuver on the circuit (as opposed to a change in order due to pit stops) to take the lead of the grand prix.  It’s actually easier to remember the overtaking attempts which sadly ended in tears, such as his badly executed attempt to wrest the lead from teammate Mark Webber in Turkey this year.  He sometimes also falls prey to giving in to his aggression, as he did in Silverstone at the start; after a slow launch from pole, when he could have conceded the lead into the first corner to Webber, he tried to keep the lead on the outside of the super-quick corner, ran out of road, and consequently picked up a puncture.  A more mature driver would have given up the corner and calculated a way past later on in the race.  Sometimes, even when defending a position, he will sometimes miscalculate his tactics and crash into his opponent (as he did with Kubica in last year’s Australian GP).  One gets the sense that Vettel may not have complete control of his emotions, and he is a very emotional driver.  There is a delightful transparency with how he expresses his emotions, whether positive or negative.  On the other hand, Vettel is quite impressive in how he handles the pressure of leading a race.  Almost inevitably, he wins because he is simply a lot faster than the guy in P2, so there’s really nobody directly attacking him.  But it’s very easy to lose concentration and crash out of a dominant lead (as Ayrton Senna famously did in Monaco 1988), and Vettel hasn’t shown a tendency to do that.

The guy is also a talented wet-weather driver, perhaps one of the best of his generation.  His first two career victories were in the wet at Monza (2008) and China (2009).  This speaks of superior feel and sensitivity, as well as lightning-fast reflexes and Jean Alesi-like car control.

For all the obvious speed and talent behind the wheel, though, is a sense of incompleteness to his repertoire.  Maybe it’s the folly of putting too much stock in expectations, but many thought that he would be destroying Mark Webber this year.  As of the halfway point of this season, though, they are tied in pole positions and is trailing Webber in terms of race victories and points earned.

Vettel seems very outgoing and charming, honest, even loquacious.  One of the charms of youth is the fact that he names his racing cars.  It might be a marketing gimmick, but it could also be a genuine sign of the guy’s personality.  There is a lot to like about Vettel.

Mark Webber – Straight-talking and strong-minded Mark Webber seems like he’s a throwback from the glorious old days of F1.  Believe it or not, but there was a time when racing drivers spoke straight, revealing their real thoughts and displaying their real personalities whenever they got the chance to speak into a microphone.  As the likes of James Hunt and Niki Lauda used to, Mark Webber shoots straight from the hip, doesn’t care what you think of him, and drives quicker than most of the drivers on the grid with him.

Many people thought that, while Webber was a good driver, there was simply no way he could live with a prodigiously talented hotshoe like Sebastian Vettel.  Many expected Webber to trail in Vettel’s wake; I certainly didn’t believe that he could be a genuine Drivers’ World Championship contender mixing it up with the McLaren drivers, Fernando Alonso, and Vettel.

The truth is, I underestimated Webber’s capabilities.  I always thought of him as a good driver, but not as a very good (much less a great) one.  In a good car, he might fight for the last few points placings; in a very good car, he’d fight for maybe sixth or eighth.  Prior to this year, I didn’t think that even a great car would enable him to be a solid contender for the race win every single time.

(As an aside, I want to say that I participate in a fantasy F1 league with my best friend and a few of his friends at his job.  As a rule, I always have Vettel and Hamilton on my team; our league’s budget rules allow me to pick only one other top driver, and this third driver almost always varies.  Vettel has burned me more often than not the last couple of years; Hamilton’s results depend largely on the quality of the McLaren depending on the circuit.

I never picked Mark Webber for my team.

Until recently, that is.  Now I’m likely to keep him on my fantasy F1 team until the end of the year.)

Now driving what is undeniably the year’s best car, Webber has made the most of the opportunity and revealed himself to be a true world championship contender.  He has combined his trademark fiesty, indomitable will with a polished, efficient driving style.  He may not match Jenson Button’s smoothness (nobody does amongst the current crop of drivers, in my opinion), but Webber looks more comfortable when he needs to attack.  Where before he used to become really ragged and untidy when he had to set a faster pace, he simply just slashes the tenths off each lap without making the car look like it’s being forced to perform above its limits.  Webber’s has been a very impressive evolution of technique and style.

You can deduce that the Webber of old may have driven the way he did because that was simply the only way available to get speed out of the car.  Gilles Villeneuve, for example, frequently had his Ferraris in crazy oversteer angles because there was no other way to make the car corner as he needed it to.  Jean Alesi is another driver who had the same trait.  These drivers, like Webber, hungered to win, but looked to be frustrated by their cars’ inherent deficiencies.  The hunger to win resulted in a certain desperation in their driving.

That desperation also manifested itself in questionable defensive tactics.  I actually disliked Webber, if largely because of his tendency to indulge in the kind of questionable defensive driving that is part of Michael Schumacher’s signature style.  It hardly mattered where in the running order he was; if someone attacked Webber, the result was a predictable swerve towards the attacking car when it got alongside.  One only needs to remember Webber’s first victory last year in the German Grand Prix.  At the start, Barrichello got a better launch and was driving up Webber’s inside towards the tight first-corner hairpin.  When Rubens’ Brawn’s front wheels were level with Webber’s Red Bull’s sidepod, Webber veered right, resulting in a hefty smack against the Brawn’s left-front wheel.

Intimidatory tactics like these have no place in Grand Prix racing, in my opinion, given the speeds these cars are capable of.  Too often Webber has indulged in this kind of driving, and too often he had gone unsanctioned.  But at the German Grand Prix last year, Webber was penalized with a drive-through penalty.

Amazingly, though, he won that race despite the penalty, turning amazingly quick laps and running down Barrichello (who inherited the lead) and overtaking him on the circuit.  It was a true winner’s performance, cast from the mold of the likes of Mansell and Senna and Prost.  I think he turned a corner after that race.  I believe Webber finally saw that, with a good car under him at last, he no longer needed to be a hooligan when things don’t initially fall your way.  Perhaps he learned that he could depend on his ability to RACE, instead of trying to discourage the competition from overtaking via intimidation and hooligan behavior.

He clearly has matured.  He still will be hard when defending position, but he no longer tries to drive his car into yours.  In Turkey this year, he squeezed Vettel towards the dirty part of the circuit, but he stopped squeezing when he knew that to do so further would put his teammate (and rival) into the grass and into a potential disaster.  Unfortunately, Vettel lost his nerve and swerved into his teammate, resulting in the very public tangle that lost Red Bull the Turkish GP.  At Silverstone Webber beat Vettel off the line, then defended his position by not lifting at Copse.  Vettel should have ceded the corner, but tried to ride around the outside; it was a hard move, but fair, in my opinion.  Silverstone also proved that Webber could channel his anger into a great drive, winning the British GP with a Prost-like polish despite the Senna-esque emotional turmoil smoldering beneath, the consequence of a swap of his new front wing onto his teammate’s car (and a somewhat valid perception that Vettel enjoys the status of favorite son within the Red Bull camp).

The only black mark in Webber’s season thus far is the Grand Prix of Europe at Valencia, when he famously crashed into the back of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus and flipped the Red Bull in mid-air.  This is the one race when Webber looked like he lost control of his emotions and momentarily misjudged what was happening on-track.  A cooler head would have avoided the potentially more grievous accident; indeed, Webber had demonstrated patience and a good understanding of the big picture (much like Button does) both before and after this incident.  Webber looks like he understands that the World Championship is the result of an entire season’s worth of performances, where every finish and point earned counts towards the final tally.  At Valencia, the desperation to make up lost ground became a spectacular accident.

Who’s better? – This is probably the most difficult driver pairing to evaluate.  It’s easy to fall into the trap and say that Webber is better, since he leads Vettel in the standings.  That would be ignoring Vettel’s obvious natural speed and talent, which I believe is top-notch; Vettel and Hamilton are probably the two most talented drivers of their generation.

On the other hand, natural talent is just a starting point, really.  More important is how you use what you’ve got.  This is where Webber beats Vettel.  He’s scored more points, he’s finished more races, and up until the halfway point of the season they’ve been virtually even in qualifying.  Webber’s superior experience gives him the edge over his younger teammate.  The adversities of his past history have helped mold him into a championship contender.  In contrast, Vettel’s inexperience has shown itself in more and bigger mistakes on the track.

In many ways, this is a mirror image of the current McLaren driver pairing, and a reminder of the awesome duo of Prost and Senna in 1988-1989.  Where at McLaren 2010 the more talented driver (Hamilton) has the slight edge (as Senna did in 1988), the 2010 Red Bull comparison sees the more experienced driver getting the nod.  Like Prost in 1989, Webber is getting more out of his car as of the halfway point.  Like Prost in 1989, Webber is arguably not the team’s favorite driver, but is still beating the guy in the other car.

It will be very interesting to see which of these two drivers tops the other by the end of the year.

Ferrari

Felipe Massa – It’s a minor miracle of sorts that Felipe Massa is even racing this year after his horrendous accident in Hungary last year.  A few short years ago, then-current helmet technology may not have saved his life; in fact, if the spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn’s broken rear suspension had hit him in the visor, it’s possible that Massa might have been injured more grievously, or possibly even killed.

Thankfully, Massa recovered fully recovered in the physical sense.

Now his biggest challenges are psychological.  This year will be all about seeing 1) if his injuries have dulled his racer’s instincts to the point where he cannot push hard enough to go to the limit, and 2) if he can deal with his new Ferrari teammate, 2-time World Champion Fernando Alonso.

His season started auspiciously enough, out-qualifying his esteemed teammate in Bahrain and finishing second to him in an unexpected Ferrari 1-2.  He beat Alonso again in the race in Melbourne, just beating him to P3 despite being outqualified.  Malaysia saw Massa trail Alonso in qualifying and in the race, but the Brazilian made it to the finish while the Spaniard’s Ferrari V8 expired two laps from the end.  Felipe then outperformed Alonso in both qualifying and in the race in Monaco and Turkey, then slipped back behind his teammate in the next three races.

It’s somewhat impressive that Massa has even beaten Alonso a few times in qualifying (3-6 in Alonso’s favor), given the fact that Fernando is a two-time World Champion.  Massa has fought for the championship twice, being mathematically eliminated with two races left to run in 2007 and just narrowly losing to Lewis Hamilton in 2008.

But is he a genuine championship contender?  I wouldn’t say so.  At best, he can win races for you if his car is better than everybody else’s.  But how often does that happen?  He outscored Raikkonen in 2008 mostly because he finished more races and had fewer problems with his Ferrari than Kimi did.  He’s competent, sure, but World Championship material?  Can you expect Felipe to get similar results in a car less competitive than a Ferrari?

Here’s my assessment of Felipe Massa in a nutshell:  Massa is more like someone who has learned the necessary techniques but lacks the panache of a true artist.  He might be able to copy someone’s drawing of a horse and do that really well, but if you ask him to draw one just from his own imagination, free-hand, the results would be far less spectacular.

Fernando Alonso – There was a time when Spain’s first F1 World Champion was seen as Michael Schumacher’s successor as the dominant force in Formula 1.  Two consecutive World Championships in 2005 and 2006 ended Schumacher’s run of five straight, and many expected Fernando Alonso to only add to his tally even after leaving the Renault team for McLaren-Mercedes at the end of 2006.

Then he found out how it is to have a teammate who not only is at least as good as him, but might be, on some days, even better.

Lewis Hamilton destroyed the burgeoning myth of Alonso’s indestructibility in 2007.  A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but no less true.  Alonso suddenly looked mortal when he was paired with Hamilton at McLaren, being genuinely beaten on pace by a teammate with the same equipment as he had for perhaps the very first time in his career.  This, perhaps, was also the first time Alonso experienced a very powerful emotion:  He had never feared a teammate before.

Adversity is an interesting stimulus, if only because oftentimes you find the true measure of a person when he or she has to face a significant amount of it.  In the midst of extreme difficulty, in the most challenging times, you tend to find out who you really are.

Unfortunately, in the midst of what had been, until then, the biggest challenge he had faced yet in his racing career, Alonso showed himself to be a bit of a dirty player.  No, he didn’t resort to intimidatory tactics like pushing rivals towards pit walls or barriers, Michael Schumacher-style.  He did, however, hold his team hostage over disclosure of McLaren’s involvement in what was later dubbed as “Spy-Gate,” that unfortunate episode of industrial espionage perpetrated by disgruntled ex-Ferrari employee Nigel Stepney and his friend at McLaren, ex-Chief Designer Mike Coughlan.  He practically blackmailed McLaren over information about Stepney and Coughlan’s illicit exchange of Ferrari designs, in exchange for concessions including an enforced rule at McLaren where he would be the team’s official number one driver.

When McLaren refused to do as he wished, he acted petulantly.  The worst obvious behavior was at the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix when he denied Hamilton a shot at a critical pole position by delaying Hamilton from having fresh tires fitted.  The upshot of his one year at McLaren was that he burned his bridges to Woking and returned to Renault for 2008.

Away from the pressure of having to fight against a good teammate, Alonso was again able to concentrate on driving a car as hard and as fast as it could possibly go.  With no disrespect meant to Nelson Piquet, Jr., Alonso never had to worry about what the other Renault was doing.  He rehabilitated a damaged reputation with some really gutsy performances in 2008 and 2009, although he was involved, however indirectly, in one of Formula One’s most sordid and damaging controversies, the race-fixing scandal in the 2008 Grand Prix of Singapore.  Although it is impossible to prove whether or not he had any direct influence over that affair, the simple fact is that Alonso was the only one who benefited from Singapore 2008.

Whatever the case, Alonso spent two years in the purgatory known as a Renault team in decline, before picking up a contract with Ferrari starting in 2010.  This time he would be paired with Felipe Massa, a good driver, but really just a top-lieutenant type in the mold of the Patrese-to-Mansell, or perhaps the Berger-to-Senna.

Luck smiled on Alonso in Bahrain, when he won after Vettel had to cut his pace to ensure making the finish.  The pendulum swung in Alonso’s teammate’s favor for the next few races, including the most embarrassing moment, a crash during the final free practice prior to qualifying in Monaco.  He started from the back of the field, but amazingly finished in sixth.

Monaco was a showcase of the best of Fernando Alonso.  On a circuit where overtaking is difficult in the best of times, he methodically slashed his way up the order.  If nothing else, this was a demonstration of Alonso the fiery, determined fighter.

In many ways, Alonso reminds me of Nigel Mansell.  Like Mansell, Alonso is a fearsome competitor.  Like Mansell, Alonso seems to lack a fine touch behind the wheel, looking like he is squeezing the car by its neck and forcing it to go faster than it could.  To be fair, I think his natural feel and talent behind the wheel are superior to Mansell’s.  He is certainly not an artist with the grace of a Prost (or Jenson Button, to a smaller degree), more a brute.  But his way works, if the car is capable.

Alonso’s Macchiavellian tendencies, though, reveal another Mansell quality:  A paranoia that bubbles to the surface when he is faced by the prospect of combat against an opponent who is his equal.  Alonso will think nothing of destroying relationships with a team if he feels his own position of assumed superiority is threatened; Mansell did the same when he was paired with World Champion Nelson Piquet in 1986-1987, then again when Prost joined him at Ferrari in 1990.

Who is better? – Massa might be a good technician who sometimes has transcendent days, but Alonso is a far more complete driver.  Not only that, but Alonso has a more ruthless personality.  Massa is too much of a nice guy (he somewhat reminds me of Gilles Villeneuve in this way; as an aside, sometimes I see Gilles’ face when I see Felipe, to be honest), too willing and eager to please his Ferrari masters to risk indulging in any behaviors that may rock the boat too much.  Unless paranoia and insecurity devour him and disrupt his focus on the job of winning races and the championship, Alonso is too great a driver, too strong a force for Massa to resist.

F1

Next time:  Reviews of Rubens Barrichello, Nico Hülkenberg, Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov, Adrian Sutil, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sebastien Buemi, and Jaime Alguersuari.

3 Aug 2010 – Brett Favre

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 03/08/2010

Jay Glazer reported this morning Brett Favre has decided to retire.

I only hope nobody (the Minnessota Vikings, various people in the media, Favre’s Jupiter-sized ego) convinces him to change his mind and come back.  Otherwise, I’ll have to commission a bust for him on my Mount Rushmore of Most Despised Professional Athletes.

Speaking of which, LeBron James and Michael Schumacher are already there.

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1 Aug 2010 – Grand Prix of Hungary Reaction (early)

Posted in Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 01/08/2010

I’m still quite incensed over the move that that piece of garbage Michael Schumacher pulled on ex-teammate Rubens Barrichello.

If you don’t know what happened, here it is:  

In my opinion, that is nothing short of criminal.  That is nowhere close to a legitimate defensive maneuver, especially in ultra high-speed open-wheeled racing cars.  You must have a serious lack of imagination if you, for any reason, believe that squeezing a competitor into the pit wall like that is above board.

What continues to baffle me, though, is how there are still people who admire this piece of shit Schumacher.  I don’t know how anyone can defend and justify behavior like that.  And it’s not like it’s a one-off for him.  It’s just the latest example of a pattern of behavior, one of his defining signatures as a racing driver.

Some people say nobody criticized Ayrton Senna because he was guilty of doing the same thing.  Well, guess what.  People like Jackie Stewart and Alain Prost criticized him; people like Nigel Roebuck criticized Senna.  Ask all my friends:  I criticized Senna for pulling that same kind of shit, called him a hypocrite for proclaiming how devout his religious beliefs were while he performed maneuvers like Estoril 1988 and Japan 1990.  I’ve been a fan of Formula One for at least a decade before Schumacher started his career in 1991, and I’ve never changed my tune all these years insofar as just how bad the standard of ethics and sporting values have become ever since Senna’s time as the leader of the pack.  People have criticized Senna, and people have criticized Schumacher.  The trouble is, nobody listened when they did, or they got shouted down for defending common sense and an appreciation for sporting values.

The governing body in charge of Formula One also bears some responsibility, since they partially legitimized Senna’s old tactics as well as Schumacher’s copying of them.  If they had sanctioned Senna all those years ago, who knows, maybe drivers would never have believed that such dangerous tactics were legitimate.  By not sanctioning Senna for his tactics (prior to Japan 1989, when he actually was sanctioned, even if I think Prost had at least some responsibility for what happened at the chicane at Suzuka), an entire generation of drivers grew up thinking that squeezing a competitor into the pit wall at racing speed is a legitimate tactic.  In effect, the FISA/FIA acted in the role of enablers to Senna and his successors.

I apologize if I offended anybody for using such harsh language in describing Michael Schumacher.  If anything, language, even foul, seems inadequate to express my loathing for the man and his behavior on a racetrack.  If you are an admirer of his, I have nothing more to say to you.

I cannot reach the intentionally blind and deaf, I think.

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