Thursday, March 31, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
I just installed the new free Formula 1 app for my Samsung Galaxy Android and I must say that it looks pretty nifty and will come in handy when I want to see F1 news and time sheets and can't be in front of a television. Download it now for free!
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
The Formula One World Championship. Part Three.
With the start of the 2011 World Championship season next weekend you don’t get anything closer to Christmas for me. I would roast a Turkey or something if the race wasn’t on down under Aussie time, 8am here in Austria. You can bet there will be a nice breakfast spread and a naughty screwdriver or two! This season is shaping up to be quite the classic as there are now 5 former world champions in the first 4 grid rows. Let’s jump right into it with what’s new in 2011 as far as rule changes and technology are concerned.
In 2009, Formula 1 tire supplier Bridgestone announced they would no longer manufacture tires for the Formula 1 circuit at the end of the 2010 season due to the “continuing evolution of the business environment”. This left the door wide open for a new manufacturer which was eventually filled by the high performance tire company Pirelli, who have competed in F1 before during the 50’s and 80’s. This time, exclusively and to some degree of controversy. From initial driver reviews and pre-season testing, the Pirelli compounds are purposely more delicate than their Bridgestone counterparts which are acknowledged to require better conservation and pit strategies. Some even believe it may cause a safety issue due to tire blowouts and heavier pit lane traffic. The super-soft Pirelli tire may only last 3 laps before noticeable degradation. Whatever the end result, the quick wearing tires will favor some drivers over others as hard pushing, aggressive drivers will find themselves in the box more often if not the wall.
Every season it seems some team invents, or more aptly put, bends the rules on how racecar technology can be adapted. With every successful bend, comes a slew of teams copying the breakthrough for their own car. The following season these loopholes are banned and teams go back to the drawing board to see how they can manipulate the rulebook. 2011 is no exception as the double diffuser, made famous by the 2009 Brawn GP Championship team, is forbidden. Also out the door are the less important F-ducts and adjustable front wings. Making its debut this season is the adjustable rear wing. Still to be decided by the FIA on exactly when and where it can be implemented, the rear wing will have the ability to “open up”, decreasing the car’s drag and giving it extra speed during passing maneuvers. Most likely it will be used by following cars on straights that are otherwise impossible or too short to pass on. Returning this year after last season’s hiatus will be the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems). A costly device still under development that stores a racecar’s kinetic energy during acceleration and cornering for use at other times, it can provide extra speed boosts although it adds another 25kg and can change the center of gravity. It had mixed results in the 2009 season. And the tricky newcomer this season is Renault’s forward facing exhaust system. The theory being it will reduce the air turbulence trailing the car which results in drag. I’m not sure how it works yet, but Renault will definitely be a team to watch as they walk the fine line between the front-runners and mid-field.
Let’s have a quick rundown on teams and drivers (in order of supremacy)…
Red Bull (Austria)
The WDC and WCC defending champs of 2010, Vettel has been phenomenal in pre-season testing, topping the time sheets on many days. Even as a Ferrari fan I must admit they are hands down the favorites and the season is theirs to lose. Mistakes made last year that nearly cost them the Championship will have surely been ironed out. Expect them to be on the podium every race.
Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
Mark Webber (Australia)
Red Bull’s only rival during training, Scuderia will come out of the gates fighting with probably the second fastest car on the grid. Never underestimate a thirsty Alonso to take a last minute pole during qualifying and coast to victory during the race. The new Ferrari F150 is looking quick and reliable as ever. Also keep an eye on Felipe Massa to improve greatly this season as his freak accident in 2009 appears even farther in his rearview mirror.
Fernando Alonso (Spain)
Felipe Massa (Brazil)
The first question mark arises with McLaren’s recently introduced MP4-26. It has produced nothing worthwhile during testing until a new package was introduced last week in Barcelona. Even so it still is at least a second of the front-running pace. On top of the team’s speed woes, Hamilton has some qualms in regards to the new tire compound of Pirelli which may favor his teammate Button who is known for a more lackadaisical driving style. Regardless they boast a pair of world champions and stiff upper-lipped Britons at that. Look for a slow start as they redesign the rear of the car but expect them to catch up by season's end. With 25 points up for grab every race weekend, a trailing driver can be right back in the mix of things with a win.
Lewis Hamilton (England)
Jenson Button (England)
Mercedes GP (Germany)
Schumacher’s return to Formula 1 last season left much to talk about in a comeback. The Michael Jordon of motorsport failed to make a lay-up, dunk or three-pointer. The highlight of the season sadly was when he almost forced his former teammate Barrichello into the wall (this blocking move will come with a heavy penalty in 2011). With a surprise car update for the final stage of testing in Barcelona, Schumacher managed to grab the best lap time of the pre-season making the critics wonder if Mercedes can leapfrog McLaren for the title of “The Best of the Rest”. With a 7-time world champion and a competent, cold-as-ice Val Kilmer-like wingman in Rosberg, all the duo need is the right car package for success.
Michael Schumacher (Germany)
Nico Rosberg (Germany)
Lotus Renault (France)
Apparently on pace with rest of the front-runners at the beginning of testing, the 2011 season outlook took a turn for the grim when their main driver, Robert Kubica, suffered severe injuries in an exhibition rally race. Expected to recover, Kubica’s season looks to be over before it even began and his future in F1 beyond that is uncertain. Even though Renault are introducing a tricky new exhaust system that may bag them an extra second, it is unseen how two drivers with 0 wins between them might utilize this advantage. If Renault are not drinking champagne at the end of the race, at least they will look like a bottle of Dom Pérignon in their new colors.
Nick Heidfeld (Germany)
Vitaly Petrov (Russia)
Force India (UK/India)
This former British team bought by Indian mogul Vijay Mallya will be making its 4th appearance in F1. With a good amount of reliability, many testing kilometers under the fanbelt, and the debut of Scottish rookie Paul di Resta, look for this team to hold a consistent mid-field lead.
Adrian Sutil (Germany)
Paul di Resta (Scotland)
With well over 300 race starts, Rubens Barrichello has become the Elder Statesman of F1. Unfortunately the former Ferrari #2 will be lucky to reach the podium this season. The mechanics team at Williams has been struggling with the new KERS all pre-season, completely disabling it for the final test in Barcelona. Their plan is to have some incarnation working in time for the season opening Australian GP and continue to develop it race by race. However, the best hope for Williams in 2011 is to challenge Force India for the mid-field crown.
Rubens Barrichello (Brazil)
Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela)
Another hopeful second-tier team, this Swiss outfit clocked the most pre-season laps except for Red Bull and Ferrari. Kobayashi, coming off his rookie season already sees himself in the first team position as he welcomes 2010’s GP2 series second place driver Sergio Perez to the pits. Perez’s main focus this year will be to stay ahead of the back-markers while Kobayashi will continue to score points on a consistent level.
Kamui Kobayashi (Japan)
Sergio Perez (Mexico)
Team Lotus (England)
Currently involved in a sponsorship name dispute with Lotus Renault, Team Lotus only wish they were in the position of their name rival. Hoping their pre-season improvements will put them in the points, they will have a hard time separating themselves from fellow mid to back-markers Sauber and Torro Rosso.
Heikki Kovalainen (Finland)
Jarno Trulli (Italy)
Toro Rosso (Italy)
Red Bull’s farm team, Alguersuari and Buemi will have to perform well this year if they do not wish to be replaced by double-A drivers in 2012. It will be a tough task for this pair to shine as Williams and Sauber have made big improvements since last season.
Jaime Alguersuari (Spain)
Sebastien Buemi (Switzerland)
Timo Glock (Germany)
Jerome d'Ambrosio (Belgium)
Hispania Racing (Spain)
Last and probably least are newcomers Hispania. Pre-season testing didn’t even include their 2011 car which was not unveiled until the final day of testing in Barcelona. This will be a team that, if slow enough, may appear to be in first place for a short time.
Tonio Liuzzi (Italy)
Narain Karthikeyan (India)
In summary it should be an interesting year. Both Red Bull and Ferrari will have to be reliable and consistently on the podium to outdo each other. Who will fall in 3rd place McLaren or engine partner Mercedes? Can Schumi reclaim some of his former glory? This perhaps will be an interesting B-story. And what will become of Renault’s season without Kubica and how effective will their new exhaust system be? Formula 1 is a very hard sport to predict, with so many variables to deal with, the Championship often plays out like a novel with plot twists and surprise endings. We will just have to wait and see.
This blog mainly focuses on American Sports in Europe as the name implies, but I will drop a quick F1 update if something extraordinary takes place during the season.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The Formula One World Championship. Part Two.
In the winter of 2000 I decided to pack my bags and move to continental Europe. My flight was actually on Christmas Day and I could think of no better present to myself than to immigrate to the land of Formula 1 and practically non-existent alcohol consumption laws.
Michael Schumacher, the 32 year old German driver for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro had just won the 2000 World Driver’s Championship, his first for Ferrari (career 3rd) and the first in 21 years for the Italian team. I unfortunately missed this because it was not broadcast in the states. Well things were about to change as March of 2001 was quickly approaching and I had landed an advertising job in Austria where they show every round of Friday’s practice, Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race on national television, ORF, commercial free to boot. It was going to be heaven and it was also the debut that year of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen, two of Schumi’s future rivals not to mention the final season of ex-Ferrari driver Jean Alesi whose glorious 12 season career produced only 1 win, the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix.
Not him again.
The 2001 season proved to be a walk in the park for M. Schumacher and Ferarri as his 9 wins and 5 second place finishes out of 17 rounds nearly doubled his nearest rival, David Coulthard's point total. 2002 resulted in more of the same domination as Schumi nearly doubled his own teamate’s points while clinching the WDC in record fashion with still 6 rounds remaining in the season. Between Schumacher and his teammate Rubens Barichello, Ferrari accumulated more points than the rest of the teams put together. This was the pinnacle of Ferrari dominance not seen in Formula 1 since the era of Nikki Lauda in the mid to late 1970’s. In the 2003 season, to help make the competition tighter, the point system was changed to allow more points to be scored from 2nd through 8th place. That, combined with a more competitive Mercedes and BMW team, led to a very exciting season with Schumacher only winning the championship, his 4th consecutive with Ferrari, by 2 points over rival and future Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen. This is about the time that the critics became really annoyed with the sport calling the Schumacher dynasty a bore. Things wouldn’t change the following year has Schumacher and Barichello muscled their way to another 1-2 WDC and Constructor Championship. In times like this, as a fan of a team that dominates to everyone else’s displeasure, especially in Austria where they hate Germans (the whole micro/macro cultural envy thing), you just have sit back and enjoy as the day will come where your team will be a shell of its former glory and you will become the critic.
And with that I segue to 2005 when a young and cocky 24 year old Fernando Alonso and a surprisingly quick Renault F1 team managed to knock the record holding 7-time World Champion off his pace. Of course this was due to Bridgestone, Ferrari’s tire supplier being shit that year, but I won’t get into it. 2006 saw Alonso again retain the Championship as Schumi, although making it close, suffered from some season ending mechanical problems in the last two rounds. Now approaching 40 years old, shattering practically every Formula one record, his career seemed to be at its end. Appropriately on September 11th, 2006, Michael Schumacher confirmed his retirement from Formula 1.
One for the road.
One last ray of Italian sunshine came in 2007 as former Mercedes rival, now Ferrari front-man and personality of the decade, Kimi Räikkönen, somehow managed to snag the WDC away from a rookie Lewis Hamilton by a flipping point in the end of the last race. Kimi, seven points back from Hamilton going into the final round in Brazil, basically had to win the race and hope Hamilton could place no better than 6th to have a chance. On top of that Alonso, who was in between the two in the point standings could place no better than 3rd. This scenario seemed fairly impossible as Lewis Hamilton, on pace all weekend just lost out on pole to Felipe Massa, the second Ferrari driver, however still on the front grid. Amazingly, in perhaps the biggest sporting choke of the decade, Hamilton early in the race made a gear shift mistake that stalled the car which sent him back to 18th. The rest of the race was spent trying to catch the Ferrari’s to no avail. I was in a casino in Moscow to watch the last race and I nearly bet my entrance cover on a Räikkönen WDC for shits and giggles which was paying out at around 27/1. I still kick myself to this day. Fortunately I watched the race right next to a table of British McLaren fans whose face I happily rubbed a Ferrari victory in and the wife won enough money at blackjack to pay for the rest of our holiday.
The next 3 years were a struggle for Ferrari in the post Schumacher era to find a rhythm. There were some major organizational changes in the team between 2006 and 2010 with the departures of team bosses Jean Todt and Ross Brawn not to mention chief designer Rory Byrne and Michael all together known as the “Dream Team” in autosport. The signing of former 2-time World Champion Fernando Alonso for the 2010 season who had been struggling with the internal politics at Renault and McLaren, seemed to be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately through some team errors and a strong Red Bull team/car, Alonso missed out on his third Championship title in his debut season with Ferrari by a measly 4 points to a record breakingly young Sebastian Vettel (23).
March 25-27th sees the Formula One World Championship return for its 53rd incarnation. The opening race originally scheduled in Bahrain was canceled due to democracy which will now drop the season down to 19 hopefully action packed rounds. Next time on American Sports in Europe in Part Three, we will preview next weekend’s race, teams, drivers and the outlook on the 2011 season.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
Al Unser, Sr. at 48 years young drove for Penske for another 3 years with mixed but not winning results until losing his race seat in 1990. From there I followed the Unser racing family and became a fan of his son, Al Unser Junior. With close CART campaigns in '88 and '89, Little Al finally won the championship in 1990 and the Indy 500 for the first time in 1992.
For those who don't follow European football (soccer) or Formula 1, Tifosi (pl.) is Italian for fans of Ferrari and/or Italian football clubs. The seasons of 1997, 1998, and 1999 were heartbreaking years with Michael Schumacher receiving a controversial championship disqualification, a second place finish after a strong fight and a season ending broken leg respectively. Adding insult to a literal injury, Eddie Irvine the other Ferrari driver finished second by only 2 points in 1999. I was however still a proud Ferrari supporter and they won their first constructor's (team) championship in 16 years.
Unfortunately as quickly as God gaveth me F1, he tookth it away as the Pacific Sports Network was sold and the new operators decided (probably rightfully so) not to pay the exorbitant licencing fee for a sport that is on at 5am and not particularly followed by the Anheuser Busch crowd. I was shattered. It was time to move to Europe.
A move to Europe, the rise and fall of Schumi and Scuderia Ferrari. Next time on ASIE.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Yeah, I used the “s” word. I figure it’s my prerogative as an American. Feel free to do so yourself, and if any of those Brit expats get on your case, point out that it was one of their own who coined the term (coming from “association football”), and they have only themselves to blame if they don’t like it).
The teams are all slotted into a league, but movement occurs between these leagues every season. The top tier is currently named the Premier League (or Barclay’s Premier League – Soccer is a bit like motor sports over here what with the integrated advertising. Wonder how long it is before MLB and NFL join in that gravy train and put adverts on the uniforms…?). Before that it was the same format, but called the Premiership, and before that it was part of the larger Football League and… but wait, I said that this would be no history lesson. Today, it’s the Premier League. ‘Nuff said. The best performing teams in this league get invites to the next season’s Champions League or the Europa League, both of which set up a tournament with top sides (another Brit term – think “team” or “squad”) from leagues around Europe. The worst performing are “relegated” to the next level, currently called the “English Championship League”. Likewise, the best teams from that league are “promoted” to the Premier League for the following season. Below that is the “English League 1” and “English League 2” and so on. Many teams seem to spend their entire existence bouncing back and forth, hoping to hang on to fourth place and avoid relegation, while others battle it out at the top and travel about the continent every year.
Meanwhile, other games are going on all the time. For a lucky few, there are the European Cups that I’ve already mentioned (and will discuss in more detail next time out.) Then there are the FA Cup (Wikipedia info: Entry is open to all teams who compete in the Premier League, the Football League and in steps one to five of the FA National League System. This means that clubs of all standards compete, from the largest clubs in England and Wales down to amateur village teams. The tournament has become known for the possibility for "minnows" from the lower divisions to become "giant-killers" by eliminating top clubs from the tournament and even theoretically win the Cup) and the Carling Cup (also known as the “League Cup”) which is similar but not as inclusive as the FA Cup. The problem with these competitions, from an outside fan perspective, is that the big clubs don’t seem to take them seriously, often fielding second or third-string players in the competition. Still, it provides another chance for your favorite club to snag some hardware, which never hurts! There are also a number of smaller competitions that take place throughout the year, one off numbers that I have yet to really get into, so I won’t detail them here.
Which clubs are worth paying attention to in the Premier League? Well, they’re the ones that you’ve likely heard of as even a casual sports fan. Manchester United are the big bullies on the block, having dominated since the league’s inception. Chelsea are right up there with them with three titles in the last six years along with a boatload of Russian money being funneled in to keep them competitive no matter what. Liverpool are a bit down at the moment, but always seem to bounce back and stay in the mix. Arsenal continue to remain relevant despite spending less on big names than the other top clubs, but they haven’t hoisted any hardware in the last five seasons. Manchester City now have the backing of big oil and are likely to break through and win something soon. Tottenham Hotspur (or just “Spurs” as they are usually coined) broke into the top four last season and are threatening again this year. Aston Villa also have some big backers, but so far have not been able to put it all together. Blackburn Rovers aren’t particularly dangerous at the moment, but are one of the few teams to win a Premier League title (in 94-95) and are rarely relegated. Likewise with Everton (the team which Landon Donovan has occasionally played well for), West Ham (the Hammers), and Newcastle United, each of which has spent at least 16 of 19 possible seasons in the top league since its inaugural 92-93 season. There are some others in the lower divisions who have big names and big histories, such as Leeds United, but we can worry about them if and when they regain their footing and return to “The Show” (had to work a little baseball talk in there. It’s spring training time!).