Mar 23, 2008

Two Cheers As BBC Take F1 Coverage

Well, two cheers to the BBC for swiping the broadcasting rights to F1 from ITV.
I say two cheers because I’m unwilling to spare a third until I know exactly what they plan to do with it.... Initial soundings are encouraging, although I’d certainly not want them to place too much reliance on the web for their ‘multi screen’ options - if I want to choose which feeds to watch then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do that on TV; and let’s be honest that is still fundamentally what the BBC is all about - television.
Web is all very well - in fact most of the time it’s better than that - but the Beeb should know better than most that they usually get a bit of a slagging off when they spend too much licence payers’ money on the web rather than on programming and TV production.

And let’s be honest, they ARE paying a lot. £200 Million is a big fat wad of cash by any standards; although many F1 fans would still consider it good value for money for getting James Allen off their screens. The BBC still has something of a reputation for ‘quality’ - although that’s obviously debatable and varies wildly by genre, production, concept and when all’s said and done, by individual perspective.
They would do well do remember that ‘quality’ bit when pulling together the programming ideas... ITV seemed to have no end of possibilities as to what they could do with the sport, but they still managed to make a fair old pig’s ear of it half the time. Always in the firing line for slotting commercials into the actual race coverage - something I’m still astonished they couldn’t find a creative solution to - they also squandered presenter talent and infantilised the coverage of a great sport pretty badly. 2007 saw them plumb new depths in banality, turning a glamourous, hi-tech, fascinating spectacle into little more than a prepubescent Lewis Hamilton fanclub.
Let’s at least hope the Beeb have a bit more maturity an imagination than that...

You do, as ever, have to be careful what you wish for. It would be easy to make fundamental errors with such a great opportunity: one is to try and recapture any kind of relationship to the nostalgia many of us have felt since the coverage left BBC for ITV all those years ago. Whilst the online clamour for “The Chain” to be reinstated as the theme music is understandable - and possibly harmless - it’s still the wrong decision. And anybody who has heard Murray Walker’s recent commentary outings knows that whilst he is a national treasure, he is certainly not the man to have in the box. Snatching Martin Brundle would be a good idea - and Ben Edwards’ name has also been mentioned (definitely a good call - and of course a presenter back from the multi-screen F1 Digital + channel, which for the fan should still be considered THE benchmark of a full and integrated TV experience) along with the excellent David Croft.
And the extended line-up of some kind of Top Gear crew, with Richard Hammond central to it, also sounds very very promising - so long as it doesn’t become *too much like Top Gear*. That kind of smug self-satisfied presentation works for what it is but you can’t help believing it’d be an odious concept to bundle F1 coverage up in.

Still - so far all sounds good. And I couldn’t be more delighted to see the back of ITV as far as the sport I love is concerned.
One thing refuses to go away however... and that is this question:
If F1 is more popular than ever before (Lewis effect blah blah) as the ITV crew insist on telling us so often, then how can they as a commercial operator not make it pay? And how can the BBC as a non-commercial enterprise expect to better them?

Is it that the fundamental proposition is overpriced and overcomplicated, or is it that ITV have simply been doing it wrong?
The Beeb need to be very sure which it is, as they can expect little mercy if the licence fee payers’ money appears to get in any way squandered on F1...

Dec 29, 2007

2007 At A Glance...

Motormouth took an extended break for 2007 - so there was none of the usual balanced opinion and considered commentary you have come to expect across the season. Ahem...

So we’re overdue a quick catch-up ahead of next season.
Okay then, so what actually happened in 2007?
Well if you lived in the UK then you’d obviously know from our fabulously unbiased and well-informed newspapers and TV stations that there was only one British driver taking part in the World Championship - in fact there was only one driver *at all* taking part in the World Championship.
And even then he didn’t win it.
Somebody called the Iceberg or something won it.
And it wasn’t fair.
If you watched it on ITV then you also encountered the surreal experience of around 20 glamourous events from often exotic and far-flung locations all looking entirely the same due to the fact that they were all presented from outside the front of Lewis Hamilton’s garage (by Steve Rider with a peculiarly creepy look on his face. Eeeeewwww.)

There was some spying stuff, some idiotic politics, a daft tyre rule that actually provided the odd bit of entertainment, some poor stewarding, some rule-breaking by the FIA, a woeful lack of genuine lap-on-lap edge-of-yer-seat racing and overtaking, Bernie Ecclestone issuing several jihads per week against Silverstone, and James Allen’s typically infuriating cocktail of hysterical, biased and shrieking commentary.
A typical year in F1 then...

And then there was a very foolish Max Mosley deciding to pick a fight with national treasure Jackie Stewart.
Very unwise. He may dress like a tiny, deranged amateur golfer and have a voice like a rusty dog whistle, but you disrespect Jackie’s standing and his opinion at your peril. You’d actually be less unpopular standing completely naked in a roomful of children, relieving yourself on a statue of Lady Di quite frankly.
And Mosley did indeed get quite the blowback and bloodying he deserved. Hurrah!

All in all, a great year for Raikkonen fans - and very probably Raikkonen himself, having valiantly put up with substandard gear and reliability since he joined the sport in 2001 - and flattered his machinery and circumstances on many occasions with flair, bravery and brilliance. He didn’t have a *perfect* season, but he had an excellent one and provided class driving, an astonishing comeback and - most entertaining of all - a lesson to all who have glibly criticised his aloof and silent nature by showing it can be far wiser to shut the hell up and get on with the job than behave like Hamilton, Dennis or Alonso and make lots of noise and fuss about yourself.

Aguri embarrassed Honda (not hard given the Brackley team’s oversized, daftly painted brick on wheels) - although poor Ant Davidson’s efforts almost went unnoticed due to some appalling luck and mechanical issues - plus Adrian Sutil’s apparent mission to run into the back of him at the start of each GP. His high point was a blistering quali lap in Turkey that made you wonder how good he’d have looked in an MP4/22...

Beyond so many comings and goings, drivers improving, cars and teams improving, so many smaller dramas and intrigues, the main event of course had to be the very public implosion of McLaren - that most disciplined and sensible of all teams self-combusting in front of our very eyes thanks to not only the spy scandal (which developed across the season, with more and more bad things creeping out) but also Ron Dennis’s delusionally idealistic driver equality policy paired with the two drivers on the grid least capable of carrying it out. All three behaved stupidly and badly, and all three - plus the entire McLaren Mercedes empire - paid the price for the foolishness in a big way.
Will they learn anything? My money’s pretty firmly on “No” as far as the driver management is concerned - it is a logical impossibility to manage driver equality at this level and Ron either needs to have the courage of his convictions and to name Hamilton as his favoured son (as he clearly is) or to expect more mayhem.

2008 brings the banning of traction control - thankfully - though that in itself is certainly not enough to bring back excitement. Nothing short of a brutal and radical overhaul of aero rules can fully enable close racing; and a whole number of other issues (including safety cars, pushes from the gravel, and cranes etc) need to be re-examined in the light of the 2007 season.

Ah well.
Bring it on...

Nov 2, 2006

2006: Things Wot We Have Learned

Well that was exciting wasn't it... Now we've all had a chance to sit back and catch our breath, you have to admit it turned out to be a pretty good season - certainly something you wouldn't have counted on after the first few races.

But then F1 always has a way of surprising you. (Apart from when Max Mosley gets involved; then it tends to just disappoint you, depress you, horrify you and make you want to go and follow Extreme Chess or something instead).

The FIA overturning the decisions of its own stewards to ensure the banning of Renault's mass dampers was a piece of predictably unsavoury and ultimately thickheaded politicking that threatened to overshadow the year, and as ever revealed and taught us more about the sport than we knew before. (Primarily, that when it stinks it REALLY stinks.)

However it was only one of many, many things we learned from the 2006 season; and so here in no particular order are a few others:

Things we have learned in 2006...
• That the age-old rule about cutting chicanes no longer stands. Well, sometimes. Kind of... Er, depends who you are.
• That the Red Bull brigade bafflingly value Scott Speed over Christian Klien and should clearly be renamed Complete Bull at once.
• That despite McLaren's wonderful shiny MP4/21 paint-job, you can't polish a turd.
• That Super Aguri weren't that bad after all - and could even be a good deal better next year too.
• That the authorities were actually capable of delivering a pretty entertaining - even compelling - qualifying system.
• That external primarily aerodynamic devices that directly affect aerodynamics aren't actually areodynamic so long as they're on a Ferrari.
• That there are other nox-fixed parts of the car that have a far more direct effect on its aerodynamics than mass dampers and should therefore also be banned... Yes: steering wheels have to go.
• That Jenson Button can win a GP, and that James Allen's voice can reach a pitch audible only to dogs when it happens.
• That Anthony Davidson is as good a commentator as he is a driver (that's 'excellent' by the way).
• That nothing became Schumi like the manner of his going.
• That Ferrari must (and will) change now he's gone, and Ross Brawn's gone.
• That the F1 Digital+ TV channel MUST return. Now.
• That rain is a good thing. Particularly in Hungary, and the event should definitely be moved into their rainy season as a result.
• That sometimes the weight of being hyped up as the uber-rookie doesn't help you make a genuinely great career start: can Hamilton avoid the pitfalls that Rosberg encountered?
• That we missed Spa very badly.
• That we will miss Suzuka equally badly.
• That Max Mosley must go.

And that's it from Motormouth - bye bye and thanks for reading throughout the season; and don't forget you can find all the articles from this year archived online at

Oct 29, 2006

The Choice Of Champions

More then ever before in previous seasons I’ve noticed a debate emerging this past couple of weeks with a strength (and a cod validity) that's quite unexpected over who the worthy or 'real' champion would be this year...

Although pundits mean 'deserving' when they say 'real', the real champion is actually very simple to decide as it is based on things like real races and real points; rather than races that happened in your head or on your Sony Playstation.

It's easy to see why a 'worthy' champion debate might emerge, what with the way points have been overhauled, rule reinvention and regulation tweaking have played into making Ferrari look tainted (again) and also how some final bravura performances from Schumi and final twists have played to the gallery.
What's not so easy to see is why anyone with half a brain thinks it's in any way a useful or justifiable way to pursue any kind of intelligent or logical dialogue about the sport.

Just as Red Bull's dumbass axing of Christian Klien was based on hard numbers rather than softer, more telling facts (that might actually have suggested they should keep him and he was doing pretty well all things considered, thanks) so the Championship is also calculated on a purely mathematical basis.
The champion is no more and no less than the person who comes out on top; worthy or not, fair or unfair. For the loser it's hard cheese, life sucks, and all that. End of story.

The debate would have been equally worthless last year, when Kimi Raikkonen was clearly the 'worthy' champion, as reflected in many popular and professional polls and awards; none of which, you may have noticed, actually caused points scored across 2005 to magically reassemble in his favour.
He was an inspired and daring all-or-nothing racer compared to Nando's route of apparently duller and businesslike competency that year (mirrored in Renault's more conservative strategies); a contrast never more apparent than at the European GP - and who picked up the spoils there too? Exactly.

Worthiness or mitigating circumstances are simply not valid currency - though even today many would still say Niki Lauda was the 'moral victor' or 'worthy' or 'real' champion in 1976.
Well tough titty; because James Hunt was the real champion (and a great one too). Just as Keke Rosberg was the real champion in 1982 when it really should have been the gobsmackingly mercurial Didier Pironi (or who knows, even the equally mercurial Gilles Villeneuve...) - it's worth bearing in mind that Rosberg only took a single victory in his championship year, which is a pretty uninspiring stat...

And in the end, after all the twitching and meddling from Lady Luck, it happens that Alonso is the real champion this year. Schumi is the real runner-up; his last race one that showed him at his very best - spirited, ballsy, deft and committed.

The way to judge the championship is on reality, not a world of alternate possibilities. Would they, after all, have made it a more exciting year? No of course not.
Anyway, now we've cleared that up, when's the next race?

Oct 23, 2006

A TV Dog's Dinner

You could almost hear the collective "D'oh!!!" waking up thousands of families across the UK very early last Sunday morning, as F1 fans shouted their despair from downstairs, once again missing out on a crucial piece of race action - and this time possibly the most important moment of this year's championship as Schumi retired at Suzuka.

It's not the first time of course that ITV have dropped the ball in their television coverage of F1 this season; far from it - just another numbing low point in their poorly scheduled, ad-intensive product.

Actually I didn't totally miss Schumacher's crucial retirement as I was smart enough to be listening to Radio 5 Live, which boasts two major advantages for the serious F1 fan: firstly it features Maurice Hamilton, and secondly it doesn't feature James Allen.
In fact it frequently also features the excellent Anthony Davidson; as complete and comfortable (and expert) a pundit as he is a driver. (Whether or not Davidson gets a race seat next year is my acid test of whether there actually is a god or if the universe we live in is no more than a cruel and meaningless void).

It wasn't just the Japanese GP coverage that disappointed. Being an 'away' race it also meant that things like the crucial qualifying sessions got the usual careful ITV scheduling treatment, finally appearing on screen at the crack of mid afternoon on the Saturday.
I tell you if I had four digital TV channels at my disposal and had forked out a nebulous amount of money for the F1 broadcasting rights, I'd certainly make sure it took priority over the likes of 'The World's Funniest Animals' and re-runs of 'Emmerdale'.

When it comes to broadcasting Formula One on TV, you have to conclude that it's something that's far too important to be left to TV people. You also can't help but wonder whether the Beeb might even make a better job of this kind of thing nowadays: they certainly seem to take clever use of their portfolio of channels more seriously.
Match that with a lack of advertising breaks and you can imagine that it might be a seriously compelling proposition. Nonetheless, I still can't see any reason why commercial interests should make ITV's coverage such a pig's ear.

There are plenty of conceivable options as far as advertising in the F1 programming goes; from simply locking out adverts for the duration of the race (with more elsewhere), to leaving rotating web-style 'banners' on screen the whole time, or even allowing people to pay to 'opt-out' of watching adverts.
You could also look to a more heavyweight and complete sponsorship package of the whole product - or split it section by section. But you really need to take it all more seriously that ITV seem willing to do at present.

We've been here before, I know, but surely somebody needs to take Bernie aside and start talking about a proper multi-screen, pay per view, stand-alone channel, backed and produced by F1 experts.

Still; on we go to Sao Paulo for what could be an exciting and emotional end to the season, and to the end of Michael Schumacher's career. Anybody fancy a wager on whether they cut the post-race coverage short to show that repeat of the episode of 'Airline' where that bloke can't find his cello at luggage reclaim?

(*This article appeared in an edited form on Teletext on ITV; 16/10/2006)

Oct 15, 2006

Orders Please...

It's always 'glass half empty' for some people, isn't it? When things aren't going absolutely 100% or more their way they just glare at you like they're sucking on a lemon... Apart from when he actually won the Japanese GP, Fernando Alonso (possibly about to take his second WDC title) spent the last couple of weeks wandering around with a face like a slapped arse.

Have you ever seen anybody looking so grim? Look into his eyes and you'd have thought the prize was a wet weekend in Withernsea.
The reason, of course, is that he was equally close to NOT taking that title, and this is a sport where second is nothing more than the first of the losers.

Having said that, even Schumi, after losing his engine at Suzuka (and probably the championship at that very same moment) managed to go back to the pits and smile while shaking hands with all his crew. Okay it was a fake smile and it looked like someone had selotaped his lips back to his ears, but dammit at least he tried; and you know that at that moment he would - for all the gloss he might want to put on it - be heartbroken inside.
Still, at least it's not all doom and gloom in F1-Land...

One comedy gem (surely accidental as the team has been irony-free since the late eighties) is McLaren's announcement that they're branching out into selling a strategy software application for businesses, based on their own software which they use for race strategies.
For anyone who hasn't noticed; having failed to deliver at least two perfectly achievable titles in the last five years alone, the team is on the verge of its first win-less season since 1996. You just hope they don't mention that on the packaging...

Someone who certainly hasn't lost his sense of humour is Ferrari's Technical Director and Head of Bumptiousness Ross Brawn who, clearly seeing some kind of job in stand-up comedy during his forthcoming sabbatical year, demanded that other teams (that'd be Renault) 'play fair' as the season draws to a close.
To their eternal credit no teams actually responded to this; doubtless being far too busy wetting themselves, changing their underpants and then wetting themselves again.

If Brawn genuinely wasn't having funsies in his comments about fair play, then his utter lack of self-awareness clearly extends beyond the many, many antics of years past to such recent events as his star driver ignoring chicanes in Canada and Hungary, and trying to turn the Monaco circuit into the world's most expensive short-stay car park. Not to mention that 'blocking' nonsense at Monza.
Having said that, I must say I hope that Renault do go for team orders, and I hope Ferrari do likewise...
The stand-alone performance of cars hasn't really brought excitement to the sport this year; it's been the on and off track dirties and controversies, peculiar regulation changes and novel rule 'clarifications' that have driven the championship drama.

So I say go for it: Dastardly & Mutley in the Ferraris, Pinky & The Brain over there in the blue corner - do your worst; block, scheme, weave, whatever... All I'd ask is that we're open about it.
It's probably a bit late to expect team orders in Brazil, with Schumi now unlikely to claw the driver's title back; but with it still theoretically open to him you should never count him out. And if events turn his way, then a little bit of scheming could come in very useful.

I have to say I think it's the inherent dishonesty of covert orders and tactics that's the problem, not orders or 'out in the open' team strategies in themselves: maybe it's time the FIA revisited the subject, as it's a mess of their making - the usual indistinct murk of dos and don'ts that a legal brain like Max Mosley could surely make a better job of.
But then, as we all know, it's sometimes easier to clarify a poorly-written rule in somebody's favour rather than have them fall foul of a well-written one in the first place. Playing 'fair' - like most things - would be easier if the FIA had the mind to make it so. But they don't.
And as long as that's the case, there *will* be scheming and conning, dirties and tricks.
They just seem curiously content to leave it that way...

Oct 9, 2006

Down To The Wire

This season promised so much before it actually started. Then once the first flag dropped it fell into a drearily dull and predictable mulch before controversies like Michael's Monaco madness and the FIA's mass-damper ban threw things wildly up the air again, and brought us back towards something approaching a classic season finale.

But what's really brought the excitement back? Simple. H20. Buckets of the stuff at both Hungary and Shanghai. Best innovation of the year: rain!

Even things like the new qualifying system don't make for as much fun as the odd torrential downpour. The wet stuff separates the men from the boys; the boys tending to disappear sideways into the gravel (or sideways into DC in the case of Felipe Massa).
Hungary's spray-filled air was equally thick with chaotic excitement, and the 2006 Chinese GP was no different, with the sport's best brains going into overdrive to snatch every advantage from the treacherous conditions.

Shanghai not only showed Schumi at his best; keeping his head, constantly adjusting and waiting for things to come to him when he couldn't do anything else - it also showed Renault at its weakest; making an amateurish mistake of changing something that was working perfectly well, throwing Nando's race out of the window in a single pit-stop. (It wasn't the rear wheel change that was the real problem, it was changing wheels at all in the previous stop...)

Seeing the Michelin and Bridgestone tyres gaining and losing form, against each other and in ever-changing conditions, reminds you of what a dumb decision a single tyre supplier for 2007 is.
I'd have at least two suppliers - in fact, I'd prefer three or four. Tyres are so crucial these days and dropping all variation and competition is another drab, standardising piece of Max's dumbing-down jigsaw.

Wet races aren't just about tyres though, as the wildly differing wet-skills of Schumi and Nando at one end (masterful) and Massa and Speed at the other (on a par with my gran) show. And China wasn't just about skill either, as Kimi Raikkonen (having a blindingly good run) would surely testify.
He must be dying to get to Ferrari after five years of varying levels of frustration and outright despair - although he still has to go to Suzuka and Sao Paulo first to find out what fresh hell McLaren have in store for him there...

And now it's down to the wire. Two contenders, 116 points apiece with two races to go; one likely to favour Michelin runners and one likely to favour Birdgestone. You could see from Schumi's unfeasibly excited bouncing at Shanghai that he wants to walk away with both those races in his pocket, having broken his China duck.

Whether he will is of course unknowable. And strangely enough, I'm not actually that bothered. I just want it to rain. Lots. That way it'll be a finale where we all win...

Oct 2, 2006

Excursions & Chicanery

Some drivers find it very difficult to stick to the road these days. Here in the real world for example it's clearly too much like hard work for arrogant, slappable oafs who don't like boring things like pavements or zebra crossings to get in the way of a good mobile phone conversation.

Still you'd have thought that clever, talented, experienced and focussed F1 drivers would better understand the difference between 'road' and 'not road' wouldn't you...
Yep. And you would of course be wrong.

Tyre bosses complaining about the surface of kerbs at Monza hit a slightly surreal note: surely they should be concerned at how their tyres perform on the track itself, not off it - and hopefully that's where their drivers will be planning on keeping their car.
This isn't to belittle safety matters of course, but the best way of avoiding a meeting with a barrier is to actually drive on the circuit itself and not on kerbs, gravel or run-offs.

Concrete run-off areas may well be safer than gravel, but they are also something of a 'get out of jail free' card for drivers these days. You don't want harm to come to them, but at the same time you can't help feeling a price ought to be paid for going off track. Like not being able to get back onto it, for example.

Whereas once you would be bogged down in gravel and unable to continue, now there is no penalty from huge run-off aprons and you can just take a nice comfy excursion and pootle back on a few seconds later.

Beyond the matter of run-off areas, Michael Schumacher has been spearheading a campaign to make chicanes a thing of the past too, prompting a novel FIA "clarification" following the Hungarian GP that appeared to fly in the face of decades of perfectly understood, observed and upheld rules.

Actually it wasn't just Hungary: a lot of people seem to have forgotten that Schumi also left out any bits of circuit that didn't appeal to him in Canada earlier in the year, where he appeared to decide that he really just couldn't be arsed with the final chicane at all on a number of occasions.
You have to wonder why circuits actually bother with chicanes or white lines or kerbs - or basically a track - when all and sundry can drive wherever appeals to them with apparent impunity.

Having said that, now that all the grid have basically been told that, contrary to popular belief (and indeed rules) that you can block others by cutting chicanes, it will be interesting to see if any resulting lawlessness backfires on Charlie Whiting and the FIA...
Let's hope so.

Sep 25, 2006

TV Times

Congratulations to Sky One for finally applying TV's current fad for cretinously formulaic celebrity based competition shows to Formula One; or at least to a driving show featuring David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine.

But while I generally welcome the chance to see more F1 drivers on telly I'm not convinced that some hideously contrived motor racing offspring of 'The Match' and 'Project Catwalk' (imaginatively called 'The Race') is necessarily the way to go.

Between the Grands Prix themselves (whose television coverage in the UK seems to revolve largely around Jenson Button) there isn't a great deal to keep the F1 fan occupied; no TV version of Autosport magazine or F1 Racing for instance (although I wouldn't be surprised if some featherbrained exec at ITV Sport is thinking about starting up a rolling 24-hour Jenson Button interactive news channel at this very moment).
One intermittent show that's worth looking out however is 'Inside Grand Prix' over on Motors TV (Sky).

'Inside Grand Prix' is a sponsor-based show (Williams partner Allianz being that sponsor), that is therefore a teensy bit team-biased, but nonetheless has loads of fascinating interviews and also useful technical articles with excellent 3d graphics.
Unfortunately, having originated in German and with variable production values, the voiceovers and graphics often don't seem to match, and with a narrator who always sounds as if he's reading the script at gunpoint it's a pretty peculiar viewing experience at times.

I always thought that extending the old Bernievison digital TV channel beyond its GP coverage to become a full-time F1 channel with news and documentaries, season reviews, classic races and historical profiles would be an excellent proposition.
That would be hugely unlikely though, given that there aren't even plans to bring back the original channel itself that I know of. But if any billionaire out there is planning on doing it, just email me and you'll have your Director of Programming sorted.

In the absence of any full-blooded F1 telly schedule though, we can at least give two and a half cheers to ESPN Classic Sport for running genuinely classic Grand Prix races from decades gone by on their channel each weekend. It's a feast for the eyes: cars that actually looked different to each other, thrilling racing, dangerous looking run-off fencing and quite terrifying haircuts. Well worth a look, honestly...

Apart from that, and short of Jenson starring in another series of 'I'm At Honda, Get Me Out Of Here!' it may be that 'The Race' is the best we can expect for now. Until the season ends - and we have nothing at all.

Sep 18, 2006

Goodbye, Farewell... Michael Bows Out

So farewell then Michael Schumacher: MS, Schumi, Schu, Rainmaster (and many other names, kind and unkind, bestowed on you across a long and amazing career). You're finally going, and with your exit you're ushering in a new age.

No matter exactly how you feel about Schumacher - and lord knows there must be a million wildly differing points of view, mostly extreme at one end or the other of the love/hate spectrum (he's a man who does not particularly inspire any middleground) - you can't deny that the sport will be a different, and probably lesser, animal without him next year.

To fans of German stereotyping Michael Schumacher is the Red Baron; a two-dimensional caricature of cold, clinical attitude, arrogance and villainy. To Motormouth he's the Red Herring; a fascinating layered creature of all kinds of misunderstood and misleading traits and messages.
He's not invulnerable, he's not always great in the rain, he's not always brilliant under pressure or in traffic. If he was perfect he'd be boring. But he's not - and that, given the greatness of his achievements, makes him far more interesting.

Jacques Villeneuve's comments that Schumi will be forgotten are clearly wide of the mark under any plain interpretation, although the extended direction of the comments - that he may not always be remembered perhaps for the best reasons - is probably less contentious.
JV was of course on the receiving end of one of Schumi's more famous dastardly and desperate split-second 'dirty tactics', and is probably better placed than many to give a first hand account of the person we're dealing with.

Michael Schumacher actually retained something of a dignified silence over Villeneuve's pot-shots, and probably isn't too worried by what JV thinks of him: when all's said and done, for whatever reasons (and they will include several impressive world records) he will be remembered far longer than JV in any case.
He's probably also aware that those achievements will be forever bundled with controversy and mixed feelings. And he probably won't be in the slightest bit bothered by that either. To Schumacher winning has always been everything - the rest is mere static.

Some hardened Schumacher fans go ape if you suggest that his sportsmanship may be less than perfect (suggesting they're either forgiving to a fault, a bit thick, or possibly registered blind) - and especially if you bring up driving into people or walls for tactical advantage.
Why so defensive? Surely you have to admire the ambition and psychology of someone who can think at that scale and at that speed? It may be dirty, and it may be cheating sometimes, but it's an astonishing gift nonetheless; and let's not forget how drab this season was until Monaco...

And so here we are; looking back at a 15-year F1 career laden with many amazing records: 7 World Championships, 90 GP wins, 153 podiums, 68 poles, 1354 career points, 22 hat-tricks of pole, fastest lap and victory - which makes comparisons with drivers of a different age redundant.

Schumacher is a creature of a very modern F1; something reflected in his achievements as much as his weaknesses. However much you love or loathe him, you cannot deny that a huge talent is departing - one which has almost single-handedly defined an F1 era.

(*This piece was originally screened on TV following the announcement of Schumacher's retirement)
(*Career stats correct after Italian GP - 10/09/06)

Sep 11, 2006

Radio Ga-Ga

If anybody tells you there's nothing good on radio anymore, they're talking rubbish, because they've clearly not heard any of the F1 team radio conversations, and are really missing out on something as a result.

Obviously I'm not talking about Schumi's transmissions (sadly I can only recall hearing him after the event, thanking pretty much everyone who lives near Maranello in gooey Oscars-style speeches: I'd much rather hear his in-race machinations and strategising). No, as ever, it's the inadvertent stuff that's really revealing.

In Turkey team radio taught us that Christijan Albers doesn't actually understand the qualifying system that he competes in; asking the crew how many go through to Round Two and should he stay in the car (they probably cut off the bit where he asked what circuit he was at and which team he was in...)

But it's not just newbies like Albers that hand out listening pleasure to fans in front of their tellies, there are some mighty (and mightily unexpected) drivers embarrassing themselves over the airwaves.

Renault team radio transmissions for instance are just pure comedy gold. You have to wonder if it's some deliberate unsettling tactic the way they keep humiliating Giancarlo Fisichella by always broadcasting clips of him being told he's nowhere near fast enough, to basically get a grip, and why can't he drive as well as other people do.

Granted, over the past couple of years Fisi has had no problems humiliating himself perfectly well without the aid of his pit crew, but you have to admire the verve with which they've thrown themselves at the job; falling only the slightest bit short of actually shouting "Fisi... You're crap... repeat, you're crap... Over..."

One of the funniest guys on team radio is actually World Champion Fernando Alonso, praised to the skies by commentators for being so perfectly balanced and rational. Yet he's the man who shrieks things like "Did you see what he did?????" and "But I can go faster than him!!!!!", sounding for all the world like South Park's Eric Cartman throwing a wobbly.

He's also the man who at the 2005 Canadian GP radioed in complaining that his car didn't seem to have the right balance; presumably unaware that this is one outcome of having driven it into a wall.

Possibly the most revealing bit of radio was at last year's Turkish GP where Raikkonen swept to victory, fully expecting Montoya to help cushion his points against Alonso. The message from the pits that JPM had goofed, letting Nando through was followed by a silence so huge that it threatened to drown out the engine.

Raikkonen is a man of few words (and mostly incomprehensible at that). But, as his title challenge ebbed further away, no words at all said everything.