Sunday, 26 April 2009

Bahrain Grand Prix

The story of this season is rapidly becoming a tale of two teams. The success story – more so than even they would have dared predict – is Brawn. Meanwhile, the grand old lady of motor racing, Ferrari, are having the worst start to any season since their inception in the thirties.

The team and the car they have produced appear to be just terrible this season. A decade ago, Michael Schumacher won five consecutive world titles with that team and, whilst Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikonnen might not be as good as Schumacher, they are not second rate drivers.

Massa was second in last year’s World Championship, and has eleven Grand Prix wins to his name; whilst Raikonnen was himself Champion the year before, and has won seventeen Grands Prix.

As if all that’s not bad enough, Eric Clapton is there supporting them.

Kimi Raikonnen managed to avoid an unprecedented four non-scoring races for Ferrari by finishing sixth, but they did their best to screw that up, as Massa bumped into him at the very first corner of the race.

So what is the difference? In two words, it is Ross Brawn. He designed the car that propelled Schumacher to his record titles. And now he has started his own team, which is leading the Constructors’ Championship by a lap.

Brawn again dominated the race with Jenson Button. Another victory and now a twelve point lead in the World Championship.

Before the race, a pre-recorded interview with Lewis Hamilton did nothing to dispel my theory that he is sitting uncomfortably somewhere on the autistic spectrum. As there were awkward questions to be asked about Hamilton lying to the race stewards in Australia, the BBC decided that Jake should do the interview. Eddie Jordan’s style not entirely suited to anything tougher than a promotional video for Centerparcs.

Despite this, the interview was blander than a beige packet of Ready Salted crisps. Nothing was gleaned from it other than Lewis is “just focused on driving the car.” Groundbreaking.

Back in pit lane, Jordan was left to philosophise on the human condition: “More cooling means more horse power. That’s just a fact of life.”

Martin Brundle’s grid walk was particularly entertaining this week as he combined his usual struggle to find anyone willing to talk to him with an ongoing grumble that he was not allowed to speak to visiting VIP Robert Plant. He got hold of Eric Clapton, sporting a Ferrari cap, and just grumbled that he couldn’t speak to Plant.

He approached Jenson Button’s car only to find he had buggered off – there was just a white umbrella sheltering the space where he should have been – so Brundle talked to his Dad instead. Old Man Button, looking like Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast has a permatan, shirt unbuttoned to his navel, and a twinkle in his eye.

Moving on, Brundle bottled out of interrupting Bernie Ecclestone as he was schmoosing the Global CEO of Banca Santander. Even Brundle knows better than to get between Bernie and a sponsor.

As always, he fell back on “Ruby” Barrichello, who is old enough to have been a teammate of Brundle, and so can always be called on for an interview when everyone else is shunning his attention.

I’m very conscious that I have written about twice as much about Martin Brundle’s shoddy interview technique as the high performance motor race, but you mine where the gold is.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Bahrain GP Qualifying

As the last two races have been all about the rain, the Formula One authorities have hedged their bets on the rain and decamped to Bahrain, where there’s less chance of a thunderstorm than of Bernie Ecclestone playing in the NBA.

I’m joking of course – F1 is not in Bahrain because of the weather. It is there because of the money, as we were reminded with much footage of Bernie Ecclestone and the Crown Prince of Bahrain wandering around their tarmac playground, making jovial noises, and comparing the size of their relative entourages.

In the paddock, Eddie Jordan was back on the BBC team. There was a weak joke about his bus pass not reaching as far as Shanghai, and then they all carried on as if he’d never been away. As a license-fee payer, I am not satisfied with this explanation – where was he when the circus was in China? Has he done something to irritate the Chinese authorities? Has he spoken out about human rights in Tibet?

This week’s sycophantic Jordan interview was with the aforementioned Crown Prince… “This is the sixth time we’ve had a race here. Has it been as successful as you’d hoped?” It’s virtually pointless to even have this interview – they might as well just read out a press release. I would like to have asked him how welcome any gay Formula One fans would be this weekend, as homosexuality is still outlawed in this relatively progressive middle eastern country.

The BBC cameras followed our threesome of pundits as they strutted through the Red Bull garage and down the pit lane. It was like watching a hi-tech version of The West Wing as Jake, DC and Eddie waxed lyrical about Sebastian Vettel’s good start to the season..

The way the qualifying works, with the five slowest drivers dropping out after each of the first two sessions, means that there seems to always be one big name who judges it wrongly and gets knocked out early. This week it was Mark Webber, second in China, who left it till the last minute and got blocked on his qualifying lap, and will start at the back of the grid.

Ferrari got both their drivers into the last qualifying session and onto the grid in the top ten for the first time this season. After three races, they haven’t yet scored any points – they are one of the great names of F1’s rich history and, for the moment at least, they suck.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Chinese Grand Prix

In the fortnight since the last Grand Prix, the teams have moved North to China, but the soap opera has been all over the place.

Lewis Hamilton’s woes have continued as the fallout from his disqualification have claimed the jobs of the top two people in the McLaren team. He is genuinely unpopular among his peers and I think I have an inkling why. If you watch him, you will see that, apart from when he is actually driving, his Dad never leaves his side, and apparently hasn’t done so since he was born. He has been with McLaren since he was a foetus. He is the motor racing equivalent of a home-schooled, twelve-year-old Oxbridge graduate. The bottom line is that he is fucking weird.

Meanwhile, the FIA court of Appeal cleared the Brawn diffuser, meaning that the first two races’ results will stand. If you are not following this, then don’t worry – Formula One increasingly resembles an episode of Lost.

The best part of the court case was seeing Ross Brawn leaving the hearing. In a suit and tie, I realised who he has been reminding me of all year. He is a slightly slimmer version of Uncle Monty from Withnail and I. Now I’m not going to be able to take him seriously ever again.

Before the race, a bloke called Mike Gaskell joined Jake and DC in the paddock – he was introduced as a technical boffin then proceeded to tell a toe-curling anecdote about Coulthard’s underpants. He is some former technical director, blah blah blah, years of experience, blah… Whatever, where the hell has Eddie Jordan gone? He was simply not mentioned, airbrushed from history like a modern-day Trotsky. I am expecting to see his body turn up on the news in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur with an ice pick in his head.

Since Malaysia, several cars have dropped the KERS, claiming that the weight of the battery makes it unworkable. Nice to see Formula One making that extra effort for the environment. Like everyone else, they are perfectly happy to be green, as long as it doesn’t cost too much or affect performance.

Speaking of Formula One’s vapid ethics, it’s also instructive to compare the hand-wringing that preceded the Olympics regarding the Chinese regime’s questionable human rights record, with the apparent lack of concern shown by the unstoppably rolling money-making machine of F1. I can’t imagine Bernie Ecclestone having many scruples – it wouldn’t surprise me if they engineered a publicity stunt, putting a Ferrari in Tiananmen Square with a white-shirted Chinese student holding his hand up in front of it.

The race itself started, as the last race finished, in the rain and behind the safety car. They all crocodiled along for eight laps before the race director got as bored as the rest of us and, despite the fact the conditions hadn’t changed at all, let them go for it. Overall, the race was a lot more exciting for being on a wet track – lousy visibility and poor grip make for a lot more fun. Perhaps they should spray the road throughout every race, creating artificial rain. Sounds like something the Abu Dhabi boys could waste some money on.

Sebastian Vettel, who won from pole position, seems like a thoroughly lovely young man. Being German and a bit fast, he is inevitably being compared to Michael Schumacher. Unlike the great champion, however, Vettel appears – for the time being at least – to possess human emotions. His delight at crossing the line, which was evident over the team radio, was rather endearing.

Before the race, a pre-recorded interview with Coulthard emphasised just how youthful Vettel looks. Is it a sign of getting old when you think Formula One drivers are getting younger these days?

Button finished third and remains top of the championship, but the real mystery remains, where is Eddie Jordan?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Smears, Jeers and Tears

It’s not been a great week for the Government with the slowly unfolding email smears, and the Culture Minister being heckled at Anfield.

The story of the smearing emails has dragged on for far too long now, perpetuated by the media’s need for a new headline every day, and encouraged disgracefully by the hypocrite Tories parading their fragrant wives to take turns tut-tutting Gordon Brown and criticising him for employing someone who wasn’t perfect, then firing them straight away.

The truth is that there was absolutely nothing in those emails that I wouldn’t have expected someone in there to be discussing – ways to undermine opposition politicians are a government’s currency. I would be extremely surprised if there isn’t an equivalent operation in Tory Central Office – albeit with a slightly better firewall this week.

This is a great example of a media firestorm. A chap got caught sending an email he shouldn’t have, and he was fired. That genuinely is the end of the story. Everything that followed is 100% media-generated…

Tories are interviewed and their indignation is broadcast to the nation… Every day another titbit of information is released, despite the fact that it all reached the public domain in one chunk… Gordon Brown is asked to apologise and refuses, saying quite reasonably that he has done nothing wrong… Commentators start to talk of a “smear culture at the heart of our politics…” Vox pops are taken from members of the public, voicing their anger after spending three days being poked with the stick… Tories change tack, saying that things will be better when they are in charge, as though Blair didn’t say exactly the same thing (or Thatcher, for that matter)… Labour desperately tries to move on the agenda to the great work they are doing in healthcare, but this is drowned out by George Osborne’s bloody wife grabbing the headlines… Brown finally caves in and apologises, presumably just because he is so bored with the whole thing… Tories crow and claim a victory despite having achieved nothing save making every single voter slightly more nauseous.

I’m not surprised that Brown apologised, but it really is pathetic. He’s like a parent who threatens an unruly child with no pudding, only to cave in and let them have another French Fancy. It started with the on-off election after he took over from Blair but, this time, Brown’s apology has left his credibility is in tatters. He has caved in over and over again, to the point that, this time, everyone knew he would end up apologising, hence the unrelenting pressure. Why didn’t he do it a week ago? Now he is even weaker.

In an attempt to shift the headlines, Brown sent Culture Secretary, Everton fan, and Rimmel-model Andy Burnham to Anfield to tackle the Hillsborough Memorial Service. Poor old Burnham had no chance. In what must have been the most awkward moment of his career since he wore eye shadow on Question Time, his speech to the fans was drowned out by chanting Liverpool supporters demanding “Justice for the ninety-six.”

I have a lot of sympathy with Liverpudlians – any city that can boycott The Sun for twenty years is alright by me. But the endless singing is enough to grate on anyone. The service was ended with a 25,000 crowd joining Gerry Marsden in an emotional “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” I don’t know what Boris Johnson was talking about…

Burnham stepped right up to the plate though by calling for the release of all unpublished evidence from the twenty-year old disaster. The cabinet minister and long-standing member of the government said, "I believe now the public interest lies very clearly in full disclosure of all such information, so that the families and others can make their judgement on all the facts."

Well hang on, Mr Burnham, which secretive bodies have been hiding this information. Who is covering it up? Surely that is something the government could have a look at. When he says that “further information should be published,” who is he addressing? Why doesn’t he just mention it to Jack Straw at the next cabinet meeting?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Champions' League

Tonight, I watched the Liverpool – Chelsea Champions’ League match. My hope was for an early Liverpool goal to make a game of it, and they didn’t let me down. It was a terrific match with eight goals and more ups and downs than the Barclays share price.

Even without Gerrard, in the first half, Liverpool were all over Chelsea, who looked like a pub team. The second half started with Chelsea coming back – Guus Hiddink must have reminded them about their win bonuses at half time. And then Liverpool just started scoring again. Much talk of Istanbul and a great deal of singing from the away end. But in the end, Not-Fat Frank Lampard put Liverpool out of their misery and put Chelsea into the semi.

But this is the Steam Engine, not one of the thousand other blogs that will tell you how great the match was. Despite all the action, I was completely preoccupied during the action, because I noticed early on that the players’ names on the shirts were somehow different. After a few minutes, I figured it out – they are both using a different font for their European games.

In the Premier League, all teams have to employ the same mandated font to identify their players – it is preset by the league. In itself, this stultifyingly Orwellian rule is no surprise. I presume that Richard Scudamore has a shareholding in the company that provides these particular letters.

In European fixtures, however, the clubs appear free to use any font they like. In response to this freedom, they have reacted like the dazzled children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and just gone crazy.

Liverpool are using a chunky, cartoony font which makes them look like the Why Don’t You XI, whereas Chelsea have gone for a cheery lower case job. I can’t begin to explain how much this sort of sloppy syntax annoys me, but what I can’t really figure out is why they are bothering.

The first reaction is that this has to be the most cynical marketing ploy of the season. But realistically, who would go out and buy a second shirt, identical in every way save for the font on the back? There might be the odd fan with more money than sense, but you have to give fans a little credit – there can’t be many of them who would fall for this. Certainly not enough to pay Didier Drogba’s wages for a week. Or even didier drogba’s.

The only other reason I can come up with is that they have a secretive sponsorship deal with the font itself. Perhaps the lower case franklin gothic font is secretly channelling funds into Chelsea in a bid to raise its profile and increase its use among Neighbourhood Watch newsletters in the ABC1 socio-economic groups. If anyone has any better ideas, let me know.

Incidentally, ITV’s commentary continues to infuriate and amuse me in equal measure. There were the usual crow-barred stats and strangled metaphors, and if I had a pound for every time the away-goals rule was explained, I would be able to fly to Rome for the final. But when Liverpool had a corner, late in the first half, Clive Tyldesley said of Petr Cech that, “there must be an alarm bell ringing, somewhere beneath that protective helmet.” I don’t care who you support, that is a beautiful image right there.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Why I Love The North-East

We managed to get rid of the boy this weekend, giving his loving grandparents the chance to fatten him up with Easter Eggs and unrestrained affection. Seizing the opportunity, Pam and I had a night away in a charming little hotel just outside Newcastle.

The Ravenscroft Arms is a huge pub with several bedrooms above a labyrinthine collection of dining rooms. Not quite in the middle of nowhere, it is planted just outside the A1 near Team Valley. This means that, if you face West, you see undulating countryside, villages and farmhouses, and the occasional car silently cresting a distant peak; but if you look East, you see an industrial wasteland; warehouses and railway sidings, over-passed by a motorway, and then, rising up behind it out of the valley, a residential area marked by tower blocks and terraces.

The Ravenscroft Arms is on the edge of nowhere, not in the middle.

When we arrived, we went for a short run, opting for the pretty route, and ran up into the hills, out of the valley on the green side, before doubling back and congratulating ourselves on having done a little physical labour before the gluttonous onslaught to come.

After a lovely evening that started early with a pint and one of those gastro-pub burgers bigger than Pam’s head, and finished with us both unconscious before half ten, we congratulated ourselves on having relaxed, shaking off the cares of work and the responsibilities of parenthood for at least one night.

In the morning, I woke up and decided to let Pam have a longer lie in by going out to buy a paper. I am not very good at lying quietly so the only way to avoid awakening the Kraken is to sail in the opposite direction. I had not seen any shops the previous day so decided to go the logical route and walk up into the residential area.

I crossed the railway, saying hello to a trainspotter who looked absolutely terrified of me. I know they are an odd bunch but I doubt that random strangers punch them in the street – why did he look so startled? It’s not like I was going to steal his trains.

Anyway, I then crossed the motorway and hiked up, out of the valley, into what I guess was part of Gateshead. I walked past a tower block and eventually found a row of three shops: a co-op, a newsagents, and a tanning shop. That is a Northern triumvirate, right there.

I went in the newsagents and took a copy of The Times to the counter. I should explain that I am usually a Guardian man but I am only human and have fallen for News International’s marketing ploy of giving away Pizza Express vouchers when you buy Saturday Times. I’m not proud of it, but I do like Pizza Express.

There was a lovely old chap behind the counter who, despite the fact there were four copies of The Times awaiting purchase on his bottom shelf, reacted as though he’d never seen the thing before in his life. “Eee, it’s a long time since we selt a Times, son. How much is that? One fifty? Bloody hell, that’s not cheap is it? Thanks, son. How, Joan, fella here buying the Times…”

There are some places where that reaction would make you feel awkward and apart, but in Newcastle, it was delivered with such warmth and affection that I felt part of the happy awe that greeted the purchase.

You wouldn’t get that in Peckham, Rio Ferdinand.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The BBC Gets It Right

Football Focus this week “dedicated the show to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster.” I must admit that my heart sank when Manish introduced the show thus. I expected that Football Focus would make an almighty mess of this. I did them a disservice.

They had produced a fifteen minute, Sue Johnstone-narrated documentary using a great deal of the original footage, and interviews of victims’ families and witnesses. It was pitch-perfect – factual, emotional without being self-indulgent, and truly affecting.

Even Motson did well. A witness to the unfolding tragedy, he pitched his account beautifully and, save a solitary catch in his voice, he didn’t resort to emotional cliché.

Alan Hansen then presented a touching retrospective where he interviewed former team-mates who, like him, were on the pitch as the disaster began; and who, like him, spent the next few weeks attending funerals, and the next twenty years trying to reconcile what they had seen.

We saw John Barnes walking solemnly behind a coffin, Barry Venison at the cathedral service; and we heard John Aldridge on the verge of tears as he related to Hansen the stories of incomprehensible grief.

Lawrenson was given very little to do, which was a good idea because, even in his funeral suit, the man’s capacity to say the wrong thing is simply not worth the risk.

BBC commentator Steve Wilson who, as a young Liverpool supporter, was in the ground that day, was given license to stray from the party line and criticise the authorities’ response on the day and in the intervening years. In a calm voice, he condemned the behaviour of South Yorkshire police on the day, and of the perceived closing ranks of the authorities since then.

The truth is that nobody has ever been brought to account for what happened that day and, in the era of blame culture, that is extraordinary.

In this blog, I am quick to criticise the BBC, their sports department in particular. What’s more, I have a contrary tendency when it comes to public displays of grief. However, I am happy to say that, on this occasion, the BBC got it just right.

Monday, 6 April 2009

David Haye Sets a Date

It’s surprising, when talking to friends and family, how few people have heard of David Haye, much less seen him in action. All this despite the fact he has all the pre-requisites for the modern boxer – the hand speed of a Mexican welterweight, the power of the most clubbing of heavyweights, and the mouth of Mohammed Ali.

No stranger to the dark arts of self-promotion, the “Hayemaker” promotes his own fights, negotiates his own deals, and sells his own merchandise. He has fought on Sky and, in the era of Calzaghe and Hatton, he has stayed hidden from the wider British public.

Having come up through the ranks at cruiserweight, he beat Frenchman Jean-Marc Mormeck to take a world title before knocking out Enzo Maccarinelli to become undisputed champion. All the while, he grumbled about making the 200lb limit so it was no surprise that he left his cruiserweight titles behind and moved up to heavyweight.

What is a surprise is that, in only his second fight at the top weight, he will be fighting for the world title.

With a combination of his talent and his talk, he has forced him onto the agenda of the Klitschko brothers – the Ukrainian monsters who hold most of the cards in the alphabet soup of world titles, and are recognised as the dominant force of post-Lennox Lewis heavyweights.

This week, contracts were signed for a June fight against Wladimir Klitschko. No shrinking violet, Haye greeted the news with great confidence. ”I’ve been studying Wladimir for years. I know him better than he knows himself. I guarantee I’ll knock him out – I’m his worst nightmare.”

It could be Ali before the Liston fight – the smaller man against the established champ, talking himself up at every opportunity. If he can do it, he’ll be World Heavyweight Champion. You’ll have heard of him then.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Malaysian Grand Prix

This was a race ruled by the rain. Even before it began, there was debate over when it would arrive, what the tyre strategy should be, who would be the beneficiary. When it arrived, it was biblical – as everyone said at length, “these cars are simply not designed to drive in these conditions.”

As soon as the first drops started, the race became all about tyres and pit stops. Frankly, it was incomprehensible – I had no idea what was going on, and I don’t think the commentators did either. At one point, Jonathan Legard shouted excitedly that Sebastian Vettel “has gone off AGAIN!” only for Martin Brundle to calm him down by pointing out it was a replay.

Eventually the race was abandoned but not after half an hour of waiting whilst the cars lined up on the grid, waiting for the clouds to blow over, mechanics running around like rabbits in the rain, drivers looking disgruntled under umbrellas, and Mark Webber, drivers’ shop steward, out of his car and marching around telling everyone who’d listen that conditions were unsafe to drive.

It was a total shambles, and through no fault of the organisers, the whole thing was exactly the sort of thing which switches off the viewing public. Just for the sake of the spectacle, they should have told Webber to belt up and get them going round a few more times to see which was the last car on the track. I don’t pay my licence fee for this. Not in my name, Gordon Brown!

Anyway, as has been the way so far this season, the pre-race entertainment was far better than the race itself. Today, they featured an interview with “F1 Supremo” Bernie Ecclestone. It seems that he has changed his name by deed-pole because he is now referred to consistently as F1 Supremo Bernie Ecclestone. The BBC clearly thought that using a professional journalist to do the job would have produced a result not quite sycophantic enough, and so they sent Eddie Jordan – a man whose permatan says much of the debt he owes to Ecclestone.

Clearly Jordan’s incisive grilling last week of Richard Branson – “Can I just say that what you’ve done here for formula one is wonderful…?” – had convinced his new employers that he was the man to winkle out the truth from Ecclestone. Sure enough, the interview was conducted on a narrow couch, with Jordan reclined like a Roman senator with bad dress sense. Ecclestone sat alongside him, perched on the end of the couch like a hobbit, his hairy feet not quite reaching the floor. Apart from being tiny, the thing about Ecclestone is that he is as ancient as Methuselah. With his white hair and glasses, he looks like a dowager duchess at a fancy dress party.

The other part of the pre-race routine with which I am not entirely comfortable is the Brundle grid-walk. He wanders around, dragging a poor cameraman with him, just getting up in everyone’s face and interfering. The grid is a remarkably public place, right up to seconds before the start of the race; there are models, family, hangers-on, and sponsors all poking and prodding at the cars and drivers. Still, though, it just feels intrusive when Brundle elbows his way in, thrusts a microphone under Jenson Button’s nose, and asks him how he feels.

Being live and dangerous, it’s high-risk TV and the occasional scoop is far outweighed by the clunky pauses and embarrassing rebuffs. Timo Glock didn’t even open his eyes as Brundle swept past him yelling questions.

The climax came as he jumped around the back of the Toyota, trying to get a good look at their new diffuser. Five mechanics were surrounding it, clearly unimpressed with the mike and camera. “This is a public area,” pleaded Bundle, “I can be here if I want.” The mechanics silently stood in front of the camera and we all moved on.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Malaysian Qualifying

It’s a measure of how the Formula One bug has caught me this year that I found myself watching the qualifying from Malaysia this morning. Even fifteen years ago (the last period that I found myself following the World’s Greatest Traffic Jam™), I never managed to watch the qualifying. Partly because this was before the era of the red button, and the BBC were far too busy on Saturday afternoons showing rugby or athletics or cricket or darts or snooker, or one of the many other sports they no longer carry. But also partly because I thought that watching the qualifying was like going to St James on a rainy Friday night to watch the reserves – it takes you lurching over the line that separates a fan from a fanatic.

Since the end of the Australian Grand Prix, the storm has been swirling around Lewis Hamilton (“Liar Lewis” according to The Sun). To cut a long story short, there were some overtaking shenanigans while the safety car was out during the last lap of the Australian Grand Prix. Hamilton’s crime, however, was lying to the stewards about what had been said and done. As a result, he was retrospectively disqualified.

What makes me laugh is that Formula One has to be the most heavily recorded sport in the world – there are cameras dotted around the car like freckles and, the real belter, all communications between team and driver are recorded and broadcast live. So when Hamilton said, “I was NOT told to let Trulli overtake me,” he would have got away with it but for the fact the chief steward went home and watched the video.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke, of course. He must have cried himself all the way home to his Swiss mansion. But for the engine noise, you could have heard the other drivers sniggering into their helmets.

The BBC covered this whole shambles with a montage sequence, underscored with mournful strings. It gave the impression Hamilton had been killed by a brain haemorrhage, not got caught telling a silly lie. Honestly, this is the Formula One equivalent of a nine year old boy standing by a broken window saying, “Wasn’t me…”

The BBC, presumably having read my blog last week, also took the opportunity to explain KERS in a bit more depth. From the in-depth analysis of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (so now I know what it stands for), I gleaned that it uses special mystical trickery to capture the energy wasted in braking, it stores it in a magic box, and then this can be released, literally at the push of a button.

F1 is laughingly trying to market this as a green initiative. Their (valid) argument is that the energy previously wasted as heat is recycled and put back into the car. What they don’t say is that the energy is generated in the first place by their V8 four-stroke engines. Even Branson has used this environmental hypocrisy it to justify his triumphal entry into the sport.

As to its effectiveness, the BBC’s pundits are unconvinced: Coulthard reckons that it is a disadvantage for heavier drivers, Jordan says it is “antiquated technology”.

The qualifying session itself has changed a great deal since my day. They now have a series of shorter sessions after which they eliminate the last five drivers until they’re left with the fastest, who run off for pole position.

The FIA have further complicated matters by stating that at the end of this convoluted process, they have moved Sebastian Vettel back ten places for causing an accident in the last race; and they have moved Rubens Barrichello back five places for having a new gearbox.

It’s so much more accessible these days.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Bottom of The Barrel

Like a balding horseman of the Apocalypse, the BBC’s most boring Alan is riding into Newcastle’s relegation battle. As the season slumps from bad to worse to Hughton, the fans are so resigned that they have even accepted Mike Ashley coming back to the ground without screaming abuse at him and his children.

And so to repay their faltering faith, he has given them what they want and what they deserve – the new messiah, the officer-commanding of the Toon Army. Alan Shearer.

Now I accept that I might be wrong about this, but my prediction is that Shearer will be a colossal failure as a manager. He will certainly fail to meet expectations, because those expectations have been growing steadily since he stopped playing. Ever since his final studs-up challenge and his injury-hastened retirement, he has been proposed as the saviour of the club. With every incompetent half-wit that has been dismissed from the position, his stock has risen further and further.

I say I could be wrong, because he is fundamentally untested. Appointing him manager is taking a chance as big as Middlesbrough appointing Bryan Robson, or Spurs appointing Paul Gascoigne, or anyone at all appointing Tony Adams. Ever.

Being a great player is NOT a qualification to be a great manager. There is even an argument that it mitigates against. The main criticism of Glen Hoddle when he was Swindon manager was that he couldn’t communicate what he wanted from the players because he simply couldn’t understand why they couldn’t play as well as him. A great player who, even in his forties, was unable to relate to players without his talent.

The Italians understand this. When Luca Vialli was appointed Chelsea manager, there was shock in his mother country. The respect in which Vialli the player was held was unquestionable, but the very idea he could become a top flight manager without serving any sort of apprenticeship was anathema.

Of course, Shearer is no idiot and has finally accepted the role knowing that he’s in a no-lose situation. If Newcastle go down, it will be Mike Ashley’s fault, and if they stay up, he will be the master of the geordie universe.