Archive: Australia

Today it was announced that the Asian rounds of Superleague Formula have been cancelled. This is on top of the earlier cancellation of the South American rounds. The original 2011 calendar also contained races in Russia, the middle east, Australia and New Zealand. None of these took place.

In the end, the only two races that took place were at Assen in the Netherlands and Zolder in Belgium. This means that the championship was decided way back in July — but we only learned that today!

It was already quite an effort for those two races to take place anyway. Superleague had seemed worryingly dormant over the winter, and many suspected that it was dead.

Following in the footsteps of A1GP

The parallels between Superleague and A1GP (another failed attempt at an ‘F1 alternative’) have always been striking. Both have core concepts that are slightly alien to motorsport.

A1GP described itself as the “World Cup of Motorsport”. Drivers didn’t win races. Teams didn’t even win races. Nations did.

Meanwhile, Superleague was designed as a cross between football and motor racing. Drivers didn’t win races. Teams didn’t win races. Football clubs did. Any football fans I ever spoke to about Superleague were not very interested in the series. For this reason, the format was always going to be a loser.

But on the plus side for both A1GP and Superleague, they both provided some quite entertaining racing. And it is on this basis that they both attracted a cult following — a small but loyal fanbase. But this clearly isn’t enough of a fanbase to sustain a series for more than a few years.

A1GP lasted for four years. Cunningly, the series was run over the winter. Not very traditional for a motorsport series, but this meant that they could draw in motorsport fans suffering from withdrawal symptoms. It was moderately successful, and it led to GP2 (the closest thing there is to an official feeder series to F1) creating a spin-off GP2 Asia series that was run in winter. (GP2 Asia has since also been wound up, having had a troubled 2010–2011 season of its own when it was affected by the unrest in Bahrain.)

Not a super formula

When A1GP closed down, Superleague opened up and has so far continued for three seasons. Superleague runs with the same type of car, with the same type of drivers on the same types of circuits. For want of a better phrase, these are a B-class car, with B-class drivers on largely B-class circuits.

I have nothing against this personally, and I personally enjoyed watching A1GP and Superleague whenever I got the chance. But you have to question whether it is a formula for success in terms of bringing in an audience.

Sad but true: the standard isn’t high enough

There are lots of brilliant series below Formula 1 that provide real appeal. It is a sad fact that the motor racing world revolves around Formula 1, and the most successful sub-F1 open-wheel series are all about finding the F1 stars of the future. GP2, World Series by Renault, GP3 and the many Formula 3 series all stake their claim as being a testing ground for the stars of the future.

But series like A1GP and Superleague Formula cannot make this claim. As a result, their appeal is sadly limited. A series like Superleague is populated by drivers who aren’t good enough to progress further up the ladder. Some drivers almost made it to F1, but didn’t quite have the last bit that was required. If you’re lucky, there might be the odd ex-F1 driver like Jos Verstappen. But the world isn’t exactly set alight by the prospect of a battle between Neel Jani and Craig Dolby.

It is true that A1GP has been a stomping ground for a few future F1 drivers like Nico Hülkenberg. But these drivers had to make their way through GP2 aftewards to get to F1.

Because let’s be fair here. It is generous to describe the drivers in Superleague as ‘B-class’. B-class open-wheel racers can be found in IndyCar. IndyCar struggles enough to survive as it is. But at least some of its drivers are household names like Dario Franchitti or Takuma Sato. Jobbing open-wheelers whose sights haven’t extended to IndyCar end up in a series like Superleague.

While I have always found the concept of Superleague Formula to be shaky, I do hope that it is able to survive this embarrassing season and come back stronger in 2012. But I sadly doubt it will be the case.

Here is an incredible video of three times British Rally Champion Mark Higgins losing control of his car at 150mph with a journalist on board at the Isle of Man TT (via dank_ross).

Higgins describes it as “the biggest moment of my life”. But the journalist looks nonchalant! It is an incredible save.

It reminded me of another incident that was similar, but with very different consequences. In 2003 the then Jaguar F1 driver Antônio Pizzonia took a journalist round Albert Park in a Jaguar road car. The problem was that he appeared to forget that he was driving a road car, and allegedly used the F1 braking point — with disastrous consequences.

This time the journalist seemed to have his wits about him more than Pizzonia did. Thank goodness they both escaped unscathed from that one.

Pizzonia wasn’t a Jaguar F1 driver for long…

What do viewers at home love about F1? It is great wheel-to-wheel racing? Lots of overtaking? Strategy calls? Or the venues? Looking at the polarised reactions to this past weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix got me wondering.

A few of the journalists were pretty effusive about the race. Will Buxton was particularly euphoric:

Epic race. One of the best of the season. Wow.

I saw that this drew a few hoots of derision, including from me! Because from the comments made by other fans watching at home was that… well… it was a bit dull really.

It wasn’t a stinker by any means. There was some good action and a fair few talking points. But large stretches of the race were rather processional. Hardly epic.

The epic race without the racing

Will Buxton justified his comments:

No sarcasm. Epic race. ALO VET lap trading, WEB early stop and brill drive, HAM / WEB moment, GLO driving arse off. KUB amazing.

There is some truth in what he says. While Webber and Kubica provided some entertainment, this was only because they were out of phase with the surrounding cars strategy-wise, so were not on an equal footing with the drivers they were battling with.

As for the battle at the front, the problem was that Alonso’s victory was never truly in doubt. He commanded the track all weekend, and always even looked like he might have a bit extra left in the tank too.

During the first phase of the race, Vettel drifted back to 3.5s behind Alonso. After the pitstops, the gap eventually grew to over 2s before slowly decreasing again. Vettel did get mighty close to the end of the race, but this was typical Alonso driving conservatively.

Renault engineers always talked about how conservative Alonso was as a driver. They never had to tell him to turn the engine down; he had already done it.

So it was in Singapore. Alonso had done just enough to establish himself as the certain winner of the Singapore Grand Prix and had the whole situation under control.

It may have looked good on the timing screens. I did indeed get excited when purple sectors were being set and Vettel started to decrease the gap. But the “lap battle” was partly down to the street circuit becoming cleaner and faster towards the end of the race.

I’m sure they were playing with each other, but neither looked to be pushing particularly hard. Alonso was always in control, and Vettel never looked interested in truly pressurising.

At the start of the race, Vettel had ceded the first corner, setting the tone for his race. It did not look like he was particularly interested in winning — a suspicion confirmed by Vettel’s comments that passing Alonso would have been too risky. And why bother? Alonso is the ultimate defensive driver, as his amazing battle with Michael Schumacher at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix demonstrated.

The bottom line is that if you hold a race on a street circuit with one overtaking spot — two at a push — then the racing isn’t epic. There might be stuff surrounding the racing — strategy, crashes, pretty buildings… But not much overtaking.

Interesting, yes. Epic, no. The ingredients simply weren’t there.

Epic racing or epic facilities?

There is a trend for certain venues to be talked up a lot by the F1 circus, no matter how good the racing is. I particularly remember Valencia Street Circuit — which has served up three of the most turgid grands prix seen in the last decade — was universally praised by the teams as being a great venue for grand prix racing.

Scratch the surface of the headlines, though, and you see that they are not so interested in the racing itself. Ron Dennis said that the 2008 European Grand Prix at Valencia was so great that it made him “ashamed to be English”. But it left most others ashamed to be F1 fans, it was so bereft of racing.

Of course, Ron Dennis was thinking about the facilities. Facilities are apparently the only thing that matter in F1 these days. Never mind what the viewers at home make of the track. As long as the venue is equipped with a shiny silver throne for the McLaren chief to do his golden business in, who cares about the people at home?

Similarly, the journalists have clear favourite places to visit and places they can’t stand. China? Don’t talk to them about it. And spare a thought for poor, poor Magny-Cours. It was so awful — not because of the circuit, of course, but because it was in the middle of nowhere, as the journalists never missed the chance to remind us!

Meanwhile, Melbourne is always the “great place for a race” — is that code for a booze-up? And Singapore is now “epic”.

Never mind the fact that the Marina Bay Street Circuit is not great for overtaking. Never mind that the 2008 race needed a manufactured crash to pep it up, and that the 2009 race was voted the fourth worst of the season by F1 Fanatic readers.

TV coverage demonstrates skewed priorities

The scenario was not helped by some rather lacklustre television coverage from FOM this weekend. It looked to me like the director was more used to directing pop music videos than motorsport.

Coverage at night races is always dominated by shots of the lit-up buildings and the scenery surrounding the circuit. It feels more like the Singapore Grand Prix is more like an advert for Singapore than a motor race. Who was going to bed last weekend without seeing that flashing “Your Singapore” banner in their sleep?

When it comes to races like this, Bernie Ecclestone’s priorities are clear. Why else would the bland coverage of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix have won an FIA award for best coverage of the season? Much of the race action was missed. Anyone not paying full attention would have thought that the race was won by a hotel that looks like a giant flashing lady-toy, so fixated were the cameras on anything but the cars.

Those in the inner circle in F1 should remember that the fans at home are looking for epic racing — not epic Holywood movies, epic nightlife or epic superloos.

I have written before about how I struggle to understand how people feel ‘pride’ in their country at, say, sporting events. For me, being proud of your country is a bit like being proud of this week’s lottery numbers or something. I just don’t get it.

For whatever reason though, patriotism undoubtedly exists and it can be a major vote winner. Politicians know this and they take every opportunity to associate themselves with some kind of patriotic cause.

The Olympics is one of the worst instances of politicians engaging in this kind of blatant demagoguery. For instance, Kelly Holmes was given a gong a few years ago because it was felt that her achievements in Athens in 2004 should be “recognised”. Much the same sort of thing will happen this year — it has already been confirmed by Chief Nationalist Demagogue, Gordon Brown.

Mike Power put it best on Twitter: “Surely the achievments of the British Olympic medallists have already been ‘recognised’ ? They got f**cking medals! Jeez.”

A couple of weeks back Mike Smithson wrote about how dangerous it is for politicians to claim credit for the achievements of athletes:

But it’s dangerous stuff trying to claim credit in this way. Firstly it appears to detract from the performances of the athletes in Beijing themselves and secondly it raises the question – where did the money come from that has made this happen?

Obviously the SNP haven’t read this otherwise they wouldn’t have come out with this sort of claptrap. It is just a week or so ago that Alex Salmond was acting as though Chris Hoy was the only person ever to win a gold medal.

Chris Hoy’s dad was pretty quick off the mark, pointing out that a Scottish Olympics team would die on its arse because Scotland doesn’t have the same world-class facilities and funding that Team GB has. Want to decrease the amount of medals Scots get at the Olympics? Simple: rip them out of the GB squad.

Before any nats start jumping up and down and start accusing me of belittling Scotland or somesuch nonsense, let me just close that argument down straight away. What we are talking about here is a simple concept: economies of scale.

First of all Scotland would have to build three velodromes at £50m a time to match UK facilities. Then there’s world-class performance funding (£4m a year). And it takes eight years to get a medal. Multiply that across all sports, and Scotland would be facing a huge sports bill.

You had to have a heart of stone not to let out an almighty guffaw when Chris Hoy himself yesterday stated that a separate Scottish Olympics team would be disastrous (as noticed by Bill Cameron:

We don’t have an international facility for cycling and we don’t have the coaching structures in place. In fact, we don’t have anything in place, so the whole idea is ridiculous. I’ve not lived in Scotland for nine years because there is nowhere for me to train. I’m a Scottish athlete but I’m proud to perform in a British team.

That was added to by one of Scotland’s other most successful Olympic athletes, the canoeist David Florence:

It’s a non-starter and he should consult athletes first before he comments. Scotland would have to build a new slalom course first and they would have to build a velodrome.

I am very proud to be Scottish, to have been born in Aberdeen and have Edinburgh as my home town. But I am also very proud to represent Great Britain and everything that stands for, which is not just Scotland.

I’m as proud to wear the union jack as I am the saltire. I don’t have a problem separating my pride in being a Scot from being British at the same time.

This gets to the heart of one of the things that most irritates me about the SNP. While I am not a nationalist of any kind, it strikes me that one of Scotland’s special strengths is its ability to have a distinct identity of its own, and indeed a sense of national pride, without having to completely dissociate itself from a larger political entity, the United Kingdom.

One can say he feels equally Scottish and British without any sense of contradiction. Indeed, whenever the ‘Moreno question‘ is asked, the results show that the vast majority of Scots can feel at once part Scottish and part British. Now this approach is something that I can feel proud of. It is one that Scotland’s Olympic athletes exhibit, and it is very admirable. Unfortunately the SNP cannot be so admirable because it would undermine their very raison d’être.

Mr Eugenides has got it spot on. Using Chris Hoy for their own petty political ends was always going to be a risky game for the SNP to play. They tried to capitalise on his gold medal haul by saying that Chris Hoy’s success shows why Scotland should have its own Olympic team. Then Hoy himself bit them on the bum by pointing out that “I wouldn’t have three gold medals hanging round my neck if I wasn’t part of the British team.”

There is another aspect of the SNP’s argument that appears to be fundamentally flawed. Like I’ve said, I don’t think people should feel proud for other people’s achievements. But conceding that some people do, are people more likely to be proud of the team representing them winning 19 gold medals or 3 gold medals (all won by the same person)?

I don’t even have to be a big fan of the idea of nationalities measuring their penis sizes through the medium of sport to find it hilarious that Great Britain finished ahead of Australia in the medals table. Scotland couldn’t have achieved that. Splitting Scotland’s medals apart, they would be ranked 20th-or-so. That is admirable enough. But as Chris Hoy and David Florence pointed out, Scottish athletes relied on UK-sized facilities to get their medals.

Like Mike Smithson said, it’s dangerous for politicians to attach themselves to athletic achievements. The irony is that neither Labour nor the SNP could ever take credit for a sporting success. If anyone can take credit for Great Britain’s performance in Beijing this year, it appears to be John Major for setting up the National Lottery. The results have come through at just the right time. The first injection of lottery money will have come just at the time when most of the current batch of athletes were beginning to mature in their sporting development.

Whether you think that is a good thing that so much public money is ploughed into sport is another matter. Alex Massie says yes, Fraser Nelson says no.

I definitely lean closer to Fraser Nelson’s point of view. I don’t think public money should be spent on the arts or sport full stop. Of course you would expect schools to provide PE lessons, though having said that if one thing put me off becoming an athlete it was PE lessons. Beyond that, the athletes should be by themselves as far as I am concerned.

I just don’t see what advantage it is for a country to have lots of sporting success. If it’s a “feel good” thing, lottery and government cash would be better spent on cute bunny rabbits to be sent to every household.

I am rather confused by Jeff’s post on the SNP’s new proposals designed to curb anti-social drinking. He says that the SNP’s approach is radical and is proof that the SNP is not just populist. But when you look at the proposals, they are a who’s who of reactionary measures that could well have been lifted straight out of a cliché-ridden Daily Excess editorial.

Let’s look at the list as laid out by Jeff.

  • Raise the limit for purchasing alcohol in off-licenses to 21

    Well right away this is about as populist as policies get. Blame it on the yoof. The media loves to do it, and the politicians love to throw around these age limits. They get to look “tough” by passing some draconian legislation that adversely affects someone. And who better to do this to than the youth, who do not vote in high numbers because they are already so disenchanted? SNP wins by looking tough without losing any votes.

    Besides that, what is this age limit supposed to achieve? We all know that these age limits are about as workable as a chocolate kettle. Given that there is currently an age limit of 18 and under-18s still find it easy enough to get their hands on alcohol, what makes anyone think that raising the limit by a few years will improve the situation any?

    There is nothing to suggest that raising that limit to 21 will make it any more difficult for rowdy youths to get their hands on alcohol. And why should perfectly law-abiding 18-20 year olds who intend to drink alcohol responsibly be prohibited from doing so?

    The fact is that those youths who really want to get alcohol will just nick it from their dad’s cabinet. Or their friend’s dad’s cabinet. Or their uncle’s cabinet. Or anywhere they can get it from. That is assuming they haven’t just got someone else who is above 21 to buy it for them, as Scottish Tory Boy points out.

    Congratulations SNP — you have made it almost impossible for law-abiding drinkers to get their hands on alcohol, whereas the rowdy contingent are encouraged into behaving even more rowdily.

    And if you want people to act like adults, it’s probably not the best idea to treat them like kids.

  • Reprice drinks to a minimum of 35p per unit of alcohol

    You want a continental “café-style” drinking culture? Then raising the price of alcohol is the last thing you should do.

    Why is that then? Well, increasing the price of alcohol will mean it will make little sense to just have one or two drinks with a meal. It will be too expensive for little return. If alcohol costs three or four times more than coffee, no-one will drink it like coffee. Instead, people will use alcohol by saving up their money for a big night out. The result? More binge drinking.

    Jeff says that the SNP’s policies are remarkably similar to those of Sweden. He is correct. Jeff also says that “I can easily imagine [they] don’t have the same alcohol-dependency and vandal culture that we have here.” Unfortunately, Jeff hasn’t done his research because Scandinavia — where alcohol is much more expensive than it is here — has a notorious binge drinking problem.

    Nor is the USA exactly a haven of responsible drinking. Has he never heard of the American phenomenon of “spring break”? These North American events are legendary for their excessive binge drinking and rowdy behaviour. Nor do I think of Australia as one of the most sober nations in the world!

    Clearly, simply raising the price of alcohol won’t encourage people to stop binge drinking. In fact, if anything, it will have the opposite effect.

  • Have dedicated [alcohol] checkouts in some of the larger supermarkets

    I’m not exactly sure what this idea is supposed to achieve. Jeff says it is to create an “inconvenience of having to go for a separate checkout to buy alcohol.” But what does it mean? Walking a few yards? If people will have already travel all the way to the supermarket, having them walk to a different checkout is hardly going to put anyone off.

    And think about the scenario. You’ve got some irresponsible people who only go to the supermarket to buy some bottles. They just go to the alcohol checkout, pay for their goods and then saunter off to the park to cause some fuss. Then you’ve got the responsible drinkers who want to enjoy a few glasses with their meals. These people are genuinely inconvenienced, as they have to go to the checkout twice — once to pay for their food, and another time to pay for their alcohol.

    Yet again, the responsible drinkers are punished whereas the troublemakers hardly bat an eyelid. Yet another sloppy policy.

  • Increase of financial support for alcohol prevention, treatment and support services

    No complaints here. This seems sensible enough to me.

This is not to say that there is not a problem with irresponsible binge-drinking and rowdy neds in the streets. Jeff rightly notes that Scotland has a problem and it’s not good enough just to sit there and let it continue. The point is that these measures will do absolutely nothing to curb binge drinking. If anything, they will exacerbate the problems while making life difficult for the majority who drink sensibly.

Unfortunately — as we see from governments of all shades time and again — the temptation for a government faced with a problem is just to do something, anything. Preferably sounding tough. Then declare the problem solved. No matter whether the solution is well thought-through or planned out.

Update: This post has been published over at Liberal Conspiracy here. To keep the discussion in one place, I will close the comments on this post. If you have any comments please post them here.

What do you think the word ‘liberal’ means?

Perhaps if you are American, you are thinking of what Europeans call social democrats. Maybe some Europeans think of it as some kind of wishy-washy centrism that can’t decide between left and right. In certain countries it may have something to do with a pro-business approach. If you’re Australian it probably means the same as conservative.

A pre condition of liberalism might be the existence of free markets. Or maybe liberalism is to do with equality of some kind or another. Animal rights? Environmentalism? [insert trendy cause here]? Smith, Mill or Kant? Etc, etc. It seems to me that the word ‘liberal’ is about as useful as words like ‘that’ and ‘thingy’.

As such, it wasn’t really a surprise that the name of Sunny Hundal’s new ‘superblog’, Liberal Conspiracy, provoked some debate about the nature of liberalism when it was launched a month or so back. “My liberalism is more liberal than yours” and that type of thing.

I would agree that, looking at the list of contributors, ‘Socialist Conspiracy’ might have been a more apt title. For instance, Jonathan Calder noted the lack of Liberal Democrats involved.

It looks like a conspiracy against Liberals.

In fairness, apart from the title (which I actually find quite amusing — it makes a good point), the site is describing itself as liberal-left rather than just liberal. Fair enough I guess, although I always thought that people describing themselves as ‘liberal-left’ were really just socialists trying to duck jibes about the Judean People’s Front.

Even the design of the website looks rather more socialist than liberal. The dark maroon colour scheme, Impact font and spatter marks make it look like some kind of SWP-affiliated website.

Anyway, liberalism. The thing that vexes me about this is the fact that — you guessed it — I describe myself as a liberal. This is mostly because I don’t know of a better term. (If you don’t know about my political views, take a look at my position on the political compass.)

When I describe myself as a liberal that means I am talking about limited government. It can’t be no government. Liberalism can’t be the same as anarchism. The question becomes “how big can a government acceptably be?” And even the most hardcore libertarians (as in the free market kind, lest there be any confusion) see the need for a government in order to protect property rights and prevent force and fraud.

A liberal (excuse the pun) interpretation of that could still leave quite a wide scope for government intervention. It might not be too controversial, for instance, for a government to step in when an activity causes a clear and unambiguous negative externality.

The classic example of a negative externality is pollution. A factory may dump pollution into a river that runs into land owned by another person. The government is duty bound to protect this property, so it would have to step in. Incidentally, I don’t think this approach is too far removed from Mill’s “harm principle”.

Liberalism “doctorvee style” goes a bit further than this. This is why you would tend not to find me using the word ‘libertarian’ to describe my political views. In my view, the government should also step in to prevent certain kinds of market failure. For instance, public goods will be under-supplied by the market.

I find it difficult to imagine how, for instance, street lights would be paid for in a strictly free market system. I can be a (critical) supporter of the BBC and still describe myself as a liberal without flinching because the BBC is a non-rival, non-excludable public good.

But for me, the bottom line is to be suspicious of any extension of government power, and to resist it unless there is overwhelming evidence of the need for it. If you take civil liberties and economic efficiency seriously, there can be no other way. History tells us to treat governments with contempt. When did you ever hear of a riot happening because the government was too small?

Given that most left-wing solutions to any problem usually involve a liberal (sorry) dose of extra government intervention, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Liberal Conspiracy found itself at the receiving end of some jibes about the term ‘liberal-left’ being an oxymoron. I think this is a tad unfair. It is possible to be left-wing / collectivist and anti-government at the same time (all I can say is, good luck solving the free rider problem).

However, it is not difficult to find instances of the Liberal Conspiracy being distinctly illiberal. One of the first posts on the blog was defending the government’s idea of forcibly keeping children in education until the age of 18. Not only that, but the writer, Mike Ion, said:

I struggle to understand why anyone on the Left of British politics could oppose Gordon Brown’s moves

It’s quite funny how I decided that my version of liberalism should keep the ‘liberal’ name. Has anybody got any better ideas?

For what it’s worth, I think the ‘liberal-left’ should just drop the pretence and call themselves socialists.

As for the (free market) libertarians? David Farrer grappled with this a few weeks back, and lamented the fact that both the ‘liberal’ and ‘libertarian’ tags have been stolen by leftists. I like his suggestion of using the unstealable “Real Fascist Bastard” tag.

But perhaps they could take inspiration from one of Hayek’s favoured terms. How about calling themselves catallactists? It would be a bit difficult for a socialist to use that one with a straight face!

Better late than never. Races don’t come much more action-packed than that. It’s just as well the race itself was good fun, because by the looks of it there isn’t going to be much of a championship battle this year. Renault and Alonso look as though they could race their cars backwards and still walk the championship in their sleep.

Just like qualifying, cars were falling of the circuit left, right and centre. Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t even wait for the race to start to go off on a spin. He looked like a bit of a funnyman. Lucky for him that Fisichella stalled and caused there to be a second warm-up lap! Montoya’s retirement in the end was possibly one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. If that had happened to me I would be pissed off, but Montoya in his post-race interview he was joking about it! “Haha, yeah, I had a few spins! Crazy old me, eh?” Fiery guy.

He went off in the same place as Michael Schumacher, and that really was weird. Schumi made several mistakes in the run-up to his retirement. It’s not unusual to see him run a bit wide every once in a while, but he just piled on mistake after mistake. James Allen said he was obviously wound-up big time because he ended up storming into the Toyota garage apparently thinking it was his Ferrari garage! Very odd.

Loads of folk were crashing though. Massa once again proved how much of an idiot he is. He took out Rosberg at the first corner, which is a shame for Rosberg. Klien had a funny accident near the start as well, and Tonio Liuzzi had a strange off after a restart. Must have been a tyre thing — loads of folk were complaining about grip.

Fisichella and Button were both complaining about grip. I think Fisichella is just making excuses though because he magically found a bit of speed when the boss got on the radio to tell him to pull his finger out (after having already been told, live on worldwide television, that he was being two seconds slower than Alonso for no good reason). He lucked into that 5th place due to Button’s problem, although he was pretty brave to drive straight into Button’s fire and oil. And given that Fisichella had to start the race from the pitlane I guess he has to take a bit of credit for getting that far up the field in the first place.

As for Button’s last-minute engine blow-up, it meant one of the most exciting ends to a race that I can remember. How unlucky must you be for your engine to blow up on the very last corner? Gutting. Button drove a smooth race yet again, but although he can get the odd pole position (and he didn’t seem to be too lightly fuelled) he is seriously lacking in race pace.

Honda’s decision to pull over to avoid getting an engine penalty is a talking point. I would certainly have gone for the points if I could. It’s a bit defensive to sacrifice two, three or maybe even four points for a measely grid penalty isn’t it? Are they really so scared of ten places on the grid? Pat Symmonds says it was the right choice — but he’s with the other team so I don’t know if I believe him! Whatever, if this was really about taking advantage of Button’s and Honda’s strength at Imola, surely this strength would only make the ten place penalty easier to swallow.

As for Alonso and Räikkönen, I am sad that Räikkönen wasn’t able to challenge Alonso more closely. By the end of the race Kimi wasn’t actually that far behind, but all sorts of things were conspiring against him. He had some kind of problem with his front wing which wasn’t a help. But the biggest factor was the restarts — the Midlands allowed Alonso to storm away and have a four second lead at the restart — twice. Alonso doesn’t even need to try with help like that. This really bunched up the field and some of the restarts were insane.

Alonso can take a lot more credit for what happened at the first restart. His overtaking move on Button was perfectly timed and got me very excited. Genius. It is moments like that that make you really appreciate why Alonso is World Champion.

Third place was Ralf Schumacher, and that is a real return to form for Toyota. A surprise after their fairly torrid first couple of races, particularly Bahrain where they really were in amongst the backmarkers. When you consider that Ralf had a drive-through penalty as well, Schumacher Jnr’s race was pretty good.

The BMWs were also fantastic. They look much stronger than I had anticipated, and I’m pleased for Heidfeld especially to get such a good result by finishing fourth. Williams looked like they were the stronger of the two teams in Bahrain, but Williams have some reliability issues that they need to iron out. I’m not a great fan of Mark Webber, but you really have to feel sorry for him to have that failure whilst leading his home grand prix (even although he was yet to pit).

Rubens Barrichello was lucky to finish as high as he did. He undoubtedly benefited from there being so many retirements. Given that he spent so much time being stuck behind Takuma Sato’s Super Aguri, you must wonder about his ability to get to grips with his Honda. To be stuck behind what is effectively a Honda B-team running a four year old car really shouldn’t happen. Whatever the problem with that Honda is — and both Button and Barrichello are complaining — it seems to be hitting Barrichello much harder. He said on the radio that he was struggling like a bitch. Button, on the other hand, seems able to battle on and make the most of what he’s got without getting into a mope.

Another controversial A-team versus B-team moment was with Red Bull and Toro Rosso. The Toro Rosso is controversial because of its V10 engines, and at the start of the season I decided that as long as it was behind the main Red Bull cars then everything was above board. But the Toro Rosso was ahead of the Red Bull on the track. How angry was David Coulthard after the race? Livid. And he took it to the stewards: Scott Speed overtook DC under yellows. Then Speed was given a penalty and lost his 8th place and first points finish. So he said a sweary word to David Coulthard. Come on lads. Aren’t you both racing on the same side? Do some in the Red Bull team feel threatened by the existence of Toro Rosso?

Okay, a three week break until the next race now so there’s plenty of time to reflect on it all. I’m off to watch the highlights programme — that was a race worth watching three times!

Well I enjoyed that qualifying session. Lots of action. The drivers seemed to find the windy and cold-ish conditions challenging — cars were going off all over the shop. I saw part of a tree branch on the track near the start of session 1, so the track must have been pretty dirty.

Session 1 was pretty exciting mostly because of Yuji Ide, who is surely the only person in the world who makes Takuma Sato look like a steady driver. Has Ide got his head stuck up his bum or something? It might have been something wrong with his car, but he lost it a silly amount of times in a short period of time. You would think they’d be a bit more careful — they surely don’t have many chassis going spare.

It was a bit embarassing when he couldn’t find reverse as well. Maybe it was something wrong with the car though — I seem to remember an Arrows driver having trouble getting it into reverse back when the cars were run by Arrows in 2002.

But what about when he held up Rubens Barrichello, eh? If I was Mr Honda I would be absolutely livid. Honda mouthpieces will probably be saying that he “got held up in traffic” through gritted teeth, because it was practically their own traffic that he got held up in. It’s not as if Ide has much to gain by trundling round and round — he’s gonna be at the back anyway, and he’s certainly not going to qualify for round 2.

Mind you, Barrichello isn’t too hot himself. He shouldn’t have been struggling to qualify anyway, and even when he wasn’t being held up by Ide he was looking chronically slow. The fact that his team-mate got pole position just rubs salt into the wound. Before the season everybody said it would be a close battle between Button and Barrichello, but Button has absolutely blown Rubens away. Barrichello may be struggling with the car, but he’s had all winter and almost three races to get to grips with it now, and the gulf between him and his team-mate is huge.

Elsewhere in the session, Massa managed to prove yet again why he shouldn’t be in a Ferrari. I wonder about Ferrari now, they seem like a shadow of their former selves. The decision to employ Massa was questionable at the time. Today it looks like a major error. Nepotism aside, how can a team with such pedigree employ such an erratic and mediocre driver? It is just bizzare. Do they really want to win the World Championship? The fact that Michael Schumacher (dragging brake coolers along with him) didn’t make the final 10 underlines this.

Nico Rosberg seems to have gone off the boil a bit. After an amazing first race and an unlucky second race, maybe Rosberg’s third weekend will be a bad one. He looked very dodgy in qualifying. Meanwhile the BMWs look very quick. It’s a shame for Villeneuve that he has an engine penalty. I’ve been impressed by Villeneuve this year and Heidfeld are up there as well. It looks like BMW could pick up quite a few points as the season progresses.

As for Button’s pole, I’m tempted to say that he’s on light fuel. But the lap time seemed to come from nowhere, and he sounded thrilled enough on the radio. The part of his lap that we saw on television — the final corner — did indeed look stunningly quick. The best on-board shots came from Räikkönen’s McLaren though. My jaw was wide open. It doesn’t look like it should be possible.

I don’t always write about the qualifying session, but there was certainly enough to get excited about this time around. The grid is intriguing as well. Can the Ferraris make up places? Will Rubens redeem himself? Can BMW keep their high positions? And will the Renaults and / or McLarens just saunter past Button in the pits? Looking forward to the race.

Update: Just noticed that this is the 1500th post on this blog. Yum.

I was going to write a post about how I just don’t get the Commonwealth Games. It’s not an aversion to sport, and it’s not necessarily an aversion to the British Empire (+ Mozambique), or whatever it was that ended up being today’s Commonwealth of Nations. Although I could talk about that in a minute.

No, my real problem with the Commonwealth Games is that they’re just fakey-games. It’s like a counterfeit Olympics. They don’t have the same prestige. They aren’t even based on a geographical area like, say, a European Championship of anything, or even a tournament like the Six Nations. In fact, looking at a map of Commonwealth nations, you may almost as well have pulled them out of a hat.

If you win in the Olympics, you are the best in the world. If a football team wins the European Championships they are the best in Europe. To be the best in the Commonwealth — I just can’t visualise that in my head. If I hear somebody described as a ‘Commonwealth champion’, my head translates it into “Not good enough to be Olympic champion; maybe not even good enough to be European champion.”

Who cares about the Commonwealth anyway? It’s a cheesy point to make, but really, what is the Commonwealth for? Nobody thinks of their nation as being part of the Commonwealth in the same way that they think about being a member of the European Union. Most people probably even forget that the Commonwealth even exists, except during those two weeks every four years when they’re forced to play badminton with each other (in a “friendly” manner, of course) in the name of it. Don’t they just hold boring meetings that aren’t important at all? And that flag seriously needs sorted out. If anybody can think of anything that screams ‘1970s’ more, I wouldn’t like to see it.

Is anybody outside of the Commonwealth even remotely interested in the Commonwealth Games? Will Germans keep tabs on it in the same way as a Brit checks up on the African Cup of Nations? I can’t imagine it, although tell me if I’m wrong. I don’t think many people even in Britain are very interested in the Commonwealth Games. I can’t remember a single thing from the 2002 tournament. The only legacy is a spiffy new stadium for Manchester City.

So why am I going to watch them? Because like all the coolest sporting events, it’s on late at night. We were robbed of some excellent late-night sporting action at this year’s Winter Olympics, unlike the ones at Salt Lake City. If I’m having trouble sleeping at any point while the Commonwealth Games are on (and that is almost an inevitability), I’m afraid Quizmania will have make do without me. Sorry Flash!