Christian Horner has said that Formula 1 needs to let its drivers be themselves more. I agree. In particular, the younger drivers need to be set free before they become PR automatons. Young people are frequently ludicrous and brilliant – let them get on with it.
Horner’s own Red Bull driver, Daniel Ricciardo, is a case in point. It’s not original or clever to point it out, but it’s unavoidable: he is one infeasibly beaming Australian.
Who hasn’t enjoyed seeing him on the top of the podium twice this season? It’s a joy to see him enjoy winning so much. Or doing just about anything, it seems. It would be criminal if his PR handlers were to erode that implausibly large smile to a weak, heartless smirk.
Or look at Marc Marquez. Admittedly anyone doing as improbably well as he has for the past season and a half would be on a permanent high, but he’s another one that’s a joy to see win.
It’ll be interesting to see how he comes across on MotoGP Tonight on BT Sport next month. Tickets to be in the audience practically evaporated, so the public are keen to see what he’s like. Hopefully he’ll be as charming as he tends to come across as in interviews, and not dead behind the eyes already.
Riders do inevitably calm down, though. Like Jorge Lorenzo. He wouldn’t jump in the water at Jerez with his leathers and helmet on these days, as he did in 2010. Shame, that.
It’s not all beaming smiles and daft celebrations though. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the World Rally Championship this year has been on boards with Elfyn Evans. It’s the young Welshman’s first full season in the WRC, and the look on his face while driving, a mixture of intense concentration and justifiable fear, is a thing to behold. This on board from Monte Carlo is a bit dark, but it’s clear enough.
So: young people being young people. More of it please!
I’d sort of forgotten that Formula 1 has stuck with the wildly unpopular idea of double points for the final race. But comments from Mercedes boss Toto Wolff have put it back in the headlines.
In short, he said:
It is fair though:
It’s the same for everyone, and the decision was made before anyone had scored any points, so it pretty unequivocally satisfies the definition. All the teams know that it’s a disproportionately rewarding race, so if for example they’ve not got a fresh power unit, then that’s their fault.
I’m not criticising Toto Wolff; I know what he’s getting at. I’d say there’s a better word for it:
And that’s my problem with it: there’s no reason for the double points, other than to increase the probability that the championship battle will go down to the final race. I kind of hope it doesn’t, just to spite the rule.
There are plenty of comparisons to be made to other championships. The World Endurance Championship, for instance, awards double points at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, because of the historical and continuing significance of that race. The fact that it’s four times longer than any of the other races might have something to do with it as well.
But the point is that there are double points for a reason. There could be double points at the historic races in F1: Monaco, Britain, Belgium, Germany,
Alternatively, if the end of the season is going to count for more, then do it properly. British Superbikes introduced the ‘Showdown’ a few years ago, which was basically a copy of the NASCAR ‘Chase’ – a few races from the end of the season, points are effectively reset for the top few in the championship, and it’s a straight fight from there. There was some grumbling beforehand, but now it’s an accepted part of the championship. It’s arbitrary, but at least it’s a thing – something that can be promoted and followed. Rather than: oh yeah and the final race has double points for no apparent reason.
The whole double points fiasco is similar to DRS, really: it’s a bit of a half-arsed solution to a perceived problem that might not have actually needed fixing; it doesn’t feel quite right; but ultimately it’s not worth worrying about.
There’s a lot of running away with championships going on this year, but not all of it is as clear cut as the results suggest. Here are six degrees of motorsport domination so far in 2014.
6. KTM – Moto3
It’s a remarkable record: a KTM-engined bike has won every Moto3 race since July 2012, and a KTM chassis every race since September 2012.
Though 2013 was a year of utter domination for KTM, 2014 hasn’t been the whitewash – six wins from six – that it looks like. Were it not for some cracking rides from Jack Miller and Romano Fenati – topping the points table as it stands – Honda would by now have secured a win or two at the hands of Alex Rins (third on points), Efren Vazquez or Alex Marquez.
The Honda is now a match for the KTM, and Miguel Oliveira on the Mahindra can’t be entirely discounted as an outside bet. It’s only a matter of time until KTM’s winning streak comes to an end.
5. Shane Byrne – British Superbikes
Shane Byrne has won three of the first four races in British Superbikes this year, and came second in the other. It’s a storming start, giving him a 30 point championship lead on 95 points.
But with those four races at only two meetings, there’s an awful lot of the season to come. There are consistent riders behind him too: Josh Brookes has a win and two second places, a retirement costing him dearly in the points standings; James Ellison has finished third in every race.
It’s too early to say that Byrne will dominate, then, but it’s clear where the sensible money is.
Domination: to be established
4. Mercedes – Formula 1
The Mercedes F1 W05 Hybrid hasn’t finished a race outside the top two so far in 2014. Until last weekend, it seemed completely believable that it could win every race.
Reliability at the Canadian Grand Prix put paid to that though, and Daniel Ricciardo took the first non-Mercedes win of the season for Red Bull.
But there’s no sign that the other teams are in danger of catching – let alone overtaking – Mercedes on performance. So with 258 points and a 119 point lead in the constructors championship, and a similar advantage in the drivers table, it’s going to take a lot more unreliability for anyone other than Mercedes to have a look in when the big prizes are handed out at the end of the year.
Domination: probably in tact
3. Citroen – WTCC
Citroen have definitely ‘done a Volkswagen’: entered a world championship, thrown time and money at the project, and blown the competition – with little or waning manufacturer support – away.
They were never going to win every race of the season, with a reverse grid for the second race of each meeting, and the penalties for success that are usual for touring car racing. But even before the season started, it was virtually a foregone conclusion that one of the Citroen drivers would come out world champion.
And so it has worked out so far: Citroen have won 11 of the 12 races, and comfortably occupy the top three spots in the championship table. It’s not all predictable though: not many would have Jose Maria Lopez leading the standings by 41 points from Yvan Muller and Sebastien Loeb.
Domination: convincing, but not complete
2. Volkswagen – WRC
Volkswagen have won each of the first six rallies of the year, and there’s every chance that run will continue.
They also won all but three rallies in 2013, in their first year. Sebastien Loeb won two of those three, but he’s out of the way now, part of Citroen’s domination of the WTCC.
The competition are looking only intermittently threatening, with a smattering of podium finishes scattered amongst the Citroen, M-Sport and Hyundai runners. Citroen’s Mads Ostberg has been most consistent, but has less than half the points of inevitable championship leader Sebastien Ogier.
Volkswagen might not win every rally this season – reliability and bad luck always come knocking eventually in rallying – but it’s almost inconcieveable that they – and Ogier specifically – won’t be on top come the end of the season.
Domination: highly efficient
1. Marc Marquez – MotoGP
One man, though, has dominated domination so far in 2014. As if taking the MotoGP title on his first attempt in 2013 wasn’t enough, Marc Marquez has won all of the first six races of 2014, to collect a perfect 150 points. His closest rival is Valentino Rossi, on 97.
The first four races of the year were pretty straightforward for the ludicrously talented Spanish child, who has been excellently described as the Predator, in reference to the ‘aliens’ tag that has been used in recent years for the frontrunning set of MotoGP riders.
Then in France he made it hard for himself by dropping back to 10th at the start, but it didn’t take long to find his way to the front, ultimately taking victory by 1.5 seconds.
And in Italy, someone finally made it hard for Marquez. Jorge Lorenzo – hopefully a now resurgent Jorge Lorenzo – challenged him race-long in a superb battle for the win. Marquez ultimately triumphed, by just 0.121 seconds.
But he did win. Again. When will it end? No-one knows.
Much has been written about the 2014 Formula 1 engines – sorry, power units – and much more will be written. I’ve already added to the noise about the noise, so I’ll leave that. But there are a few comparisons that I think highlight just how bloody remarkable these things are.
It’s easy to take reliability for granted these days. But reading Ayrton Senna: All His Races recently, it really hit home how far we’ve come.
Stuff used to go pop all the time. As an arbitrary example, Gerhard Berger only finished three races in the 1989 season, and still ended up 7th in the championship. They weren’t all mechanical problems, but – hell, not even HRT in their first season had that many problems. And Berger was in a Ferrari.
The speed at which teams have got to grips with reliability this season is remarkable. At the first four races, there were 13, 15, 17 and 20 classified finishers – and not all the non-finishers were due to car problems. That’s with historically low amounts of pre-season testing. Stunning work, really.
It’s healthy to remember that F1 has always been preoccupied by talk of engine advantages, technical novelties, managing the tyres, fuel consumption – and often more than one. Senna ran out of fuel on the last lap at Silverstone three years running, for Christ’s sake – most famously in 1991.
So the fact that they’re using something like a third less fuel than last season, and not only getting to the chequered flag, but doing it inappreciably slower, is an absolutely cracking job. Even Renault: they may pale in comparison to Mercedes, but it’s still a massive achievement.
The World Touring Car Championship also introduced new engine regulations this season, and I can’t help feeling that they did it while the FIA wasn’t looking. Yes, the engines have more power, but as a result of enlarging the air inlet for the turbo charger, meaning the engine can burn more fuel. More power from more fuel – it’s not exactly an impressive claim, is it?
And this is in a series based on road going cars, so you’d hope would want to concentrate on relevant technology. You know, like fuel efficiency, hybrid engines – the sort of stuff that manufacturers are supposed to be interested in. But instead, it seems to have gone down a fairly blunt avenue to get more power. Doubtless a cheaper avenue though, and that may be the salient point.
But since F1 can afford – just about – to pursue green technology, it’s a mystery why the engine manufacturers – if not teams and sponsors – aren’t making more of the promotional opportunity. Mercedes have at least now put a little bit of their Hybrid production car branding on the rechristened F1 W05 Hybrid. But is that really the best the sport can do?
It’s been a good few years since I’ve paid for a TV service, but a combination of MotoGP moving to BT Sport and BT TV not being terribly expensive convinced me to dip my toe back in those waters. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I thought I’d share my experiences. It’s a bit long winded, I grant you, but in short: it’s all pretty good.
BT’s packages are not very well advertised on their website. There are innumerable combinations of broadband and TV, all with different introductory and on-going prices, all badly laid out. It’s a minefield.
Broadband first. I was nervous about going with BT, given their reputation for reliability, but actually so far my fibre broadband connection has been solid – just one stutter that I’ve noticed, which lasted a minute if that. And though it’s by no means the cheapest option, it’s not hideously overpriced: for Unlimited BT Infinity 1, after it stops being free for six months, I will be paying £23 a month for unlimited usage at up to 38Mb – which is ample.
BT Sport is free with BT Broadband, which is all good and well if you’re willing to just stream it on your PC, phone or tablet, or have Sky TV. But I wanted it on my TV.
So I’ve also gone with the BT TV Entertainment package – which requires BT Infinity. That gets you a YouView box and beams the BT Sport channels and a bundle of others magically over the internet to your telly. Most of that bundle is pretty unremarkable to my eyes, but nestled in there are Eurosport and Eurosport 2. Which is all that matters. Given that a YouView box is about £300, an extra £7 a month isn’t bad.
Not to forget that there’s cashback to be had if you’re a new customer, which is always worth having.
The YouView box is pretty good: it has all the usual pause, rewind and record functions of a PVR; you can set programmes to record via mobile devices; and the major catch-up services being integrated into the programme guide is nifty. I’ve had a couple of issues with recording, but overall I’m quite satisfied.
One downside of BT TV is that all the non-Freeview channels – including BT Sport and Eurosport – are delivered via the internet. That means it needs a solidly reliable wired connection to your router.
A direct ethernet connection is recommended, though I currently have it wired up via powerline. For the uninitiated: you plug an adapter into a mains power socket near the router, and connect them via ethernet cable; plug another adapter into a socket near the YouView box, and connect them via ethernet cable; the adapters then complete the connection by communicating over the mains power circuits. Magic! (Technology.)
Specifically, I’ve used Devolo dLAN 500 duo powerline adapters. Performance depends on any number of factors – distance, the quality of the electrical wiring, whether everything’s on one circuit. I’m not using them over a very great distance, but in a house with fairly old wiring, and speed tests show no difference to a direct ethernet connection. Which is good.
Performance has dropped once, which I fixed by updating the firmware – which was simple via the surprisingly straightforward Devolo Cockpit PC software, which can connect to the powerline network via WiFi.
The units are whiney little buggers though, emitting a high pitched tone most of the time. I’ll run an ethernet cable when I get around to it; a nice 10m cable is supplied with the YouView box.
On BT Sport itself, the headline is MotoGP, which as I’ve said at greater length elsewhere on the site is pretty good – and all things considered, an improvement on the BBC’s coverage.
The ‘exclusive’ World Rally Championship coverage isn’t very exclusive. It’s purely the world feed material, and most of it is broadcast elsewhere: the daily highlights on Motors TV, the hour-long review show on ITV4. The only thing that’s exclusive is the live coverage, which is unpredictably scheduled – not BT Sport’s fault, admittedly, but it makes it harder to find.
Also flapping around the BT Sport schedule are various bits of V8 Supercars, DTM, NASCAR, IndyCar – all nice to have, if you can keep up with where and when they’re on.
Then there’s the very considerable bonus of the Eurosport channels. Albeit a bonus you’re paying for. Entire days dedicated to World Superbikes and British Superbikes, full WTCC coverage, European Rally Championship – and plenty more besides.
Though I had forgotten how difficult it is to record Eurosport, due to everything overrunning all the time and programming being shifted as a result. Ho hum. They repeat everything endlessly, so it’s not hard to try again.
I was a bit excited when I saw that Motors TV was going free-to-air on Freeview HD, albeit via the internet. Alas YouView is not the same as Freeview, and does not adhere to the Freeview HD technical requirements, and does not support the particular internet streaming over which Motors TV is broadcast. So: no Motors TV. At the moment, anyway.
It might change, but there’s a part of me that hopes it doesn’t, because I’m already struggling to keep up with the motorsport that BT Sport, Eurosport, ITV4 and the BBC are throwing at my telly box.
Which brings me to F1, and of course Sky Sports F1 is not part of BT TV. You can pay for the Sky Sports Day Pass on Now TV though – which is available through YouView. That’s £9.99 per day, but you can get a good chunk of cashback the first time you use it.
As the title suggests, the backbone of Tony Dodgins’ book is a series of accounts of every race Ayrton Senna took part in, from karting, through the junior formulae, to Formula 1. These are interspersed with interviews with key personalities, and longer accompanying pieces.
There’s generous photography throughout, and it’s printed on very handsome paper. These things matter for a coffee table book of this stature – it’s approximately the size and weight of a typical coffee table – and price.
It’s a successful format, particularly for the pre-F1 years. The race reports broadly concern themselves with just the facts, personal perspectives on events coming separately in contributions from the people involved.
With Senna having taken on a different championship every year, there are several new faces to offer contrasting views on each season – rivals, team owners and so on. The Formula 3 season is the obvious highlight, with contributions from the likes of Martin Brundle and Dick Bennetts.
In those early chapters readers are largely left to piece things together for themselves, and draw their own conclusions. That changes somewhat in the F1 years, the author more widely offering his opinion on events. The shift in tone jars somewhat at first, but was probably unavoidable given the controversy around a lot of what went on.
Nevertheless, the format remains effective. The race reports for the most part remain admirably concise, and largely avoid trying to describe specific racing action – which is hopeless in the written word. There are some longer reports, of course, but only where it’s called for.
If there’s a criticism of the race reports, it’s that there’s an occasional overuse of numbers in the prose. Sentences full of qualifying lap times to three decimal places aren’t desperately easy to read and digest; gaps between times are also used, and work better.
With relatively little variation in personnel from season to season, there’s not the same array of fresh perspectives in each chapter that there is earlier in the book. There are plenty of contributions, however, with some nice incidental anecdotes supplementing discussion of the key events. The other longer pieces add welcome background and detail, even if much of it is familiar – and indeed some of it is drawn from the archives.
The book has been published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Senna’s death. The 1994 San Marino Grand Prix is covered in appropriate detail, but the book neither dwells on nor is dominated by those tragic events and the subsequent court case; a similar amount of space is devoted to the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, for example. The final contribution comes from trainer Josef Leberer, who knew Senna well, and whose career-wide recollections bring the book to a satisfying close.
It’s a novel approach to documenting a driver’s career, and comes together as something of a high end scrapbook. It’s eminently dip-in-able, as a coffee table book should be, but also stands up to more sustained consumption. Though it’s a story that has been told many times and in many ways, it covers the ground well, and the approach throws up enough new insight and detail to justify spending time with it – and the attention given to Senna’s early racing life is particularly welcome.
AYRTON SENNA: ALL HIS RACES By Tony Dodgins, Foreword by Martin Brundle
It was announced this week, and it’s being released in two months’ time. Codemasters aren’t pissing about with GRID Autosport.
If fans of the series – which began in the late ’90s with the TOCA games – thought they got the cold shoulder from Codemasters with GRID 2 (words like ‘accessible’, ‘narrative’, ‘no in-car view’ – that is a word), then this is Codemasters nuzzling back up to them, whispering a quiet racing apology in their ear. Rather than target an assumed mainstream audience, this time Codemasters have consulted their community, racing drivers, and – as the title suggests – Autosport magazine.
Chief games design James Nicholls describes it as “a really focussed racing game”:
Those disciplines will be touring cars, open-wheel, endurance, tuner events and street racing. It looks like there will be a lack of officially licensed series, alas, so there’s no BTCC to take part in – confirmed by Eurogamer. There’s certainly BTCC involvement though: Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan were two of the drivers consulted, and a tweet from Airwaves Racing gives a glimmer of hope that there could be the odd familiar livery, if not full championships.
Licenses aren’t everything though. It’s something that Simon Strang of Autosport – whose staff “got stuck in to help” – said that’s given me most reason to be optimistic:
Quite right. Games aren’t supposed to be hard work, they’re supposed to be fun. I’m still very much enjoying Gran Turismo 6, but it looks like that might only have another couple of months inside my PS3.
GRID Autosport will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in the UK on 27th June.
We’re a couple of rounds into the season, so it seems like a good time to consider how BT Sport are getting on with MotoGP.
On the ground
Most importantly, the commentary team of Julian Ryder and Keith Huewen are solid. Crucially they’re capable of talking to each other, which is more than can be said for some commentary teams. It’s not the first time they’ve worked together and they seem to get on, which comes across in the commentary; but equally they don’t spend the race chuckling amongst themselves. It’s a good balance, and probably the strongest element of the coverage.
That and Gavin Emmett, who’s doing an absolutely cracking job as roving reporter. Having worked on the world feed for a number of years, he knows everyone, and everyone knows him, which makes for great, informed interviews. He’s completely relaxed in the pit lane and on live TV, and was a very wise signing.
I rather like Neil Hodgson too. He’s not quite at home in front of the camera yet – a bit like James Haydon a few years ago – but his enthusiasm for racing is infectious, and he’s very natural talking to riders. With Gavin Emmett, they’re a great pair to have roaming the pits.
Front of house
Then there’s the presentation team, which is harder to judge at this stage. Melanie Sykes doesn’t seem entirely comfortable. Her conversations with the pundits are a touch stilted, with a tendency to move on quite abruptly. It could be a production issue, or a lack of familiarity. But at the moment I can’t help feeling that we’d be better off with Gavin Emmett fronting the whole thing.
It recalls Jennie Gow’s brief stint fronting the BBC’s coverage after Suzi Perry left. There was nothing particularly wrong with Jennie Gow, but Matt Roberts was there in the pits, infinitely more qualified, looked over for no obvious reason. A year later, Matt Roberts was moved to the fore, and the coverage was all the better for it.
I don’t want to write off Melanie Sykes though – not at all. She was very good in the preview programme, and it’s too early to reach any firm conclusions about the live coverage.
The importance of set up
Rough edges aside, the set up in Sepang was superb, with Melanie Sykes talking to various pundits in a specially constructed raised area at trackside, passing over to Gavin Emmett and Neil Hodgson in the pits – it felt truly comprehensive, like proper event television.
The coverage of Austin was much less convincing, with half the team stuck in a studio in the UK. It was inevitably more disconnected, and felt a tiny bit half-arsed in comparison to Sepang.
If BT Sport are going to do it properly, they need to ship everyone to the race track. It looks like the studio will be the norm rather than the exception though, sadly.
James Toseland is presumably going to be the regular pundit, despite being absent from Austin presumably due to his parallel music career. I’m not wholly convinced by him: he’s always seemed a little overly formal to me, and I’m not sure he’d done all his Moto2 and Moto3 homework before the first round.
It’d be good to see more of MCN’s Matthew Birt, who featured over the Sepang weekend. For Austin we had Troy Corser and Steve Parrish, who knows his way around a TV broadcast, and will be a semi-regular. No sign of Charlie Cox yet…
No class snobbery
Credit has to go to BT Sport for treating Moto2 and Moto3 properly – as promised. There’s plenty of discussion, analysis and interviews – and not only with the British riders, though obviously they get the lion’s share of the attention.
And the coverage extends into the week, with MotoGP Tonight on the Tuesday evening following a race weekend.
Craig Doyle is an established safe pair of hands (Isle of Man TT etc), and alongside him Iwan Thomas is a bit of a pleasant surprise – enthusiastic, knowledgeable and not a bad presenter.
The format is a bit hit and miss – due in part to the hit and miss nature of celebrity guests on this sort of programme. Famously bike-loving comedian Ross Noble was an obvious choice – confident and enthusiastic, he dominated the first show, and not in a bad way. Cricketer Graham Swann was a bit more representative of a typical guest, and left the presenters with more work to do.
The content too is a mixed bag – but I generally find this sort of themed magazine show a bit awkward. The straight sport content is sound, and there’s definitely a place for further analysis after a few days to digest things. The lighter sport content – from Twitter, for example – actually works quite well. The general bike content and studio tomfoolery – like the ‘Lean Machine’ – is fine if you like that sort of thing. For me, you could probably lose half of the one hour run time and have a tighter, better show.
It’s early days though, and these things need time to find their feet.
The last thing anyone needs is another idiot spouting opinions about the noise of the new 2014 Formula 1 engines. But now this is happening. You’re very welcome.
I left it a couple of races because honestly, I didn’t quite know what all the fuss was about after Australia. I enjoyed the tyres screeching as the cars left their pit boxes, but didn’t really notice much else.
Having paid more attention during the Malaysian Grand Prix, I guess it does sound different to last year – closer to MotoGP bikes, perhaps. But the noise has never impacted on my enjoyment of MotoGP.
Taking that point and running with it, Moto3 bikes sound less impressive than MotoGP, but that doesn’t stop Moto3 from providing some of the most consistently entertaining racing – on two wheels or four.
Maybe I’m different to a lot of F1 fans. In fact, I rather hope I am, given their reaction to the noise of an engine. To many, F1 is motorsport. A change to the sound coming out of their telly box is strange and frightening.
But if you consume a range of motorsports, I don’t think it’s possible to be concerned by it. Rally cars, touring cars, superbikes – they all sound different again, but does that make them more or less entertaining? No.
Nevertheless, there are simple solutions for those who find their hearing insufficiently damaged. At the track, for example, there could be a designated NOISY GRANDSTAND, with different sources of intolerable noise at each track. A Harrier Jump Jet could hover overhead at Silverstone; guns could be unrelentingly fired in the air at the Circuit of the Americas; something Belgian could happen at Spa.
Accidents may happen, and some people may die, but at least spectators would leave with an uncomfortable ringing in their ears.
This year’s BTCC grid is remarkably good looking. It hasn’t always been; I still haven’t quite recovered from Jeff Smith’s 2011 livery. But this year’s cars are an impressively professional looking bunch.
Top of the pile in my world are newcomers United Autosports, who’ve come straight in with a couple of bloody smart looking cars in red, white and blue.
Fellow new team Rotek Racing have also shown up the established teams something rotten with this classy Oakley-sponsored effort.
Somewhat further up the colour spectrum, the third Motorbase Focus, run as Crabbie’s Racing, certainly stands out. And I like it for that.
An honourable mention must also go to Wix Racing, for refining their livery into a very tidy yellow effort. It looks good on the Mercedes-Benz A Class, doesn’t it?
Finally, the MG. Remarkably, they’ve come up with an even more elaborate team name: MG KX Momentum has become MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save. So, in effect, still ‘MG Tesco Tesco’. Like 2013 – and unlike 2012 – it looks fine.