Archive: football

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.

Is this the greatest theme tune ever? And have you ever heard the full version of it?

I bet many don’t know about the guitar break in the middle!

I reckon you could probably tell how old someone is by what pictures they associate the boing with. For me, it is a snooker ball going down a pocket — or that goalkeeper’s handstand save. Sadly I haven’t been able to find either of these on YouTube.

Here are a few of the title sequences from over the years.

Grandstand really ought to still be on TV for the theme tune alone. If you ever wondered why it is no longer on TV, here is the answer. It was killed forever by a weedy remix. They even removed the boing!

The terrible music is bad enough. But what is incredible is that almost everyone in the video is doing anything apart from watching Grandstand. They are in the gym, drinking coffee, playing pool, and even doing the shopping. But they are not on the couch watching five hours of sport (apart from the young family at the end, but that is totally implausible).

Needless to say, the remix didn’t last.

It was a rocky path to recovery. This one from 2004 is bad in the opposite way. There is too much happening, but the classic montage style is gone. Worst of all, the theme tune is being spoken over!

Here is the beginning of the final episode of Grandstand, from 2007.

About ten years ago I shunned music radio. It no longer reflected my musical tastes, so I turned to speech radio stations instead — all on the BBC.

After a while, I began to get into BBC 6 Music. I was still interested in the speech elements of the station more than the music. Adam and Joe became a regular listen, but I also began to appreciate the music output more. Programmes like the Freak Zone and Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service simply would not exist on another station — which is why there was so much outrage when it was suggested that the station would be closed down.

But when considering alternative options in the event that 6 Music closed, I realised that the outlook was perhaps not as bad is it might seem. As a commercial alternative, Absolute Radio wouldn’t be a bad option.

Shedding Virgin Radio’s dad rock image

In the space of just two years, the new owners of what used to be Virgin Radio have given the station a completely new lease of life.

I would never have considered listening to Virgin Radio. Its playlist was limited, repetitive and fusty. It was wall-to-wall dad rock.

Looking back, the transition to the new-style Absolute was quite steady. But the day it ditched the Virgin brand was the day it could move on from that albatross and the Smashie and Nicey image. Today, I think it is easily the most interesting commercial radio station around.

More than music

The key selling point of Absolute Radio, as opposed to Virgin, is that it is now not just about music. Now it’s an “entertainment” station. When you tune in, you are more likely to hear a comedian than a dusty old Status Quo song. Its current presenters include people like Dave Gorman, Iain Lee, Frank Skinner and Richard Herring — all much better known for being funny than being fanatical about what Virgin always called “real music”.

It’s a template that has been successful at BBC 6 Music ever since it started. Its original breakfast presenter was Phill Jupitus, while other high-profile presenters have included Russell Brand, Craig Charles, Jon Holmes and… Richard Herring. And it’s difficult to escape the feeling that Absolute’s weekend morning programming has been heavily influenced by the success of Adam and Joe on 6 Music.

The really impressive thing about how Absolute have gone about it is the fact that Dave Gorman appears to have more influence over the music that is played on his programme than Adam and Joe ever did. As a whole, Absolute is more accessible than 6 Music, but it is a station that is unafraid to step out of the mainstream on occasion.

Determined to try different things

But gradually, Absolute is becoming something more than a commercial 6 Music-lite. Its deal to broadcast English Premier League football matches is a bold move to for a music station to make, particularly since Radio 5 Live and TalkSport are so well established in this area. Apparently it is the first time a music station has broadcast top flight football since Capital Gold brought Jonathan Pearce to the world 20 years ago.

Absolute have launched some interesting spin-off stations as well. In addition to Absolute Classic Rock, there is Absolute 80s and Absolute Radio 90s (that is a way to make me feel old — my decade is now for proper nostalgia!). There is also Absolute Radio Extra. The best thing is that the latter three are all available on DAB.

There was also Dabbl, an experimental station where users chose the content. It has closed down now, but it is nonetheless a sign that Absolute is determined to experiment with radio.

Doing new things with radio

The people behind Absolute Radio have a great website, One Golden Square, which takes you behind the scenes of Absolute Radio. The openness of the website is wonderful. It is a great insight into what makes them tick, and it’s all very encouraging.

Absolute are always at the cutting-edge, thinking about the future of radio and different ways to listen to it. That is no wonder — the traditional 1215 medium wave frequency is very poor quality for a music station, so it helps them to investigate alternative ways of broadcasting.

One Golden Square Labs outlines some of the really interesting things they are up to. There is some nifty iPod Nano integration. They are also pushing ahead with HTML5 delivery.

Compare My Radio - comparison of Absolute and 6 Music

One Golden Square are also behind the wonderful Compare My Radio. This website is a heaven for radio and stats geeks — perfect for me.

It is a treasure trove of stats about radio output in the UK. You can see what tracks and artists are popular, search for artists to find out what stations play them, and even compare the output of two radio stations — with Venn diagrams and everything.

A lot of people turned to this website to learn about 6 Music. Many defended the station on the basis of statistics collected by Compare My Radio. You can see how 6 Music compares to Absolute Radio.

The website is a fascinating service that must take a bit of work to maintain. It’s great that a radio station can take a step back and fairly allow others to compare it with other radio stations.

All-in-all, you get the impression that the people behind Absolute Radio are seriously passionate about radio. As a bit of a radio fan myself, that is a big winner for me.

I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.

He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.

I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).

His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.

I only learnt today that he worked for a few years on Pingu. Via the Cook’d and Bomb’d forum comes this video of an episode of Pingu that he wrote.


(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)

A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.

Read on to view a selection of my favourite Frank Sidebottom videos.

Click for more »

There is something about the way that economists think that makes them different. Sometimes this makes them downright brilliant. Other times it makes them complete outcasts.

I often enthuse about the paradox of voting — the phenomenon whereby economists struggle to explain why people vote. But when I talk about it to anyone else, the idea is normally met with a combination of confusion and mirth.

I escaped early though. Realising early on that I didn’t really have a talent for economics, I switched tracks soon after completing my degree. I still retain an interest in the subject though, and it definitely still affects the way I think.

The core problem that economics is concerned with is the allocation of scarce resources. Poor John Stuart Mill was traumatised by the problem. When trying to take his mind off the dismal issue, he turned to music. But he only found himself worrying about the scarcity of different musical notes. This insight in turn led him to conclude that, one day in the future, every possible combination of notes will be exhausted and there will be no new melodies.

He needn’t have worried. As we all know in these vuvuzela-aware times, millions will happily make do with one solitary hooting B♭.

A thought about scarcity suddenly struck me today. It is widely thought that this generation will be vilified, but most assume that it will be because we’ve used up all the oil or something.

But what about those all-important usernames on that we depend upon as our identities on the internet? Everyone who has tried to sign up for a half-decent email address knows that it can be a complete pain finding a unique username that isn’t idiotic.

That is how I ended up with an idiotic moniker like ‘doctorvee’. Even this mad username was already taken up on YouTube and Skype when I tried to sign up to those sites. Moreover, some other chappie has decided to call himself ‘Mr DeeJay Doctor V€€’, thereby putting paid to my chance of buying, should I ever have felt the urge to do so.

The problem is bad enough today. Maybe we can keep on signing up to Twitter with vaguely comprehensible usernames for a few years more. But what about 10, 50, 100 years in the future? Surely by then everything will be used up.

Or perhaps, like Mill and his music, it is just the paranoia that comes with the territory when you think like an economist.

Belated congratulations to Jenson Button for becoming the 2009 World Champion. I know it’s long overdue, but hey — that’s what happens when real life takes over (more on that real life stuff can be found here).

I have not always been convinced that Jenson Button is a good driver. In fact, the only times he has impressed me before were his début season in 2000, and 2007 when he did an admirable job in what was by all accounts a horrendous car. In 2008 he was, oddly, not so impressive. Perhaps he had lost motivation after being let down by Honda for too many years, but the fact is that Rubens Barrichello did a better job in 2008.

The Brazilian had his moments in 2009, but it is difficult to argue that he was better than Jenson Button throughout the season. While Button’s sudden rise to the sharp end of the grid at the start of 2009 got many people asking whether it was all down to the car, Barrichello was often to be found scrapping around in the lower end of the points positions.

There is no doubt about the fact that this year’s Brawn car was much better than last year’s Honda car was a major contributory factor towards Jenson Button’s Championship victory. And it is true that Rubens Barrichello performed better than Button in the second half of the season. And, yes, without Barrichello’s vital set-up data, Jenson Button would probably have been nowhere.

But while Jenson Button was pounding in the wins, taking full advantage of the Brawn’s superiority while it was still there, Rubens Barrichello took too long to get up to speed with it. Let us also not forget that Jenson Button was seriously impressive during the first half of the season, putting in some of the best overtaking moves there have been all year.

It is certainly the case that this sort of aggressive form was not much in evidence during the second half of the season. After gaining victory in Turkey, it seems as though Jenson Button tensed up, not returning to form until Brazil.

For a lot of people, this was turning out to be a real damp squib. People do not like to see a driver winning a championship by merely bagging points rather than taking impressive victories. However, Button earned the right to be given this leeway, so impressive he was at the start of the season.

I would have said after Turkey that Jenson Button would have to have been really bad in the second half of the season to not deserve the title. But while he may have been slightly disappointing, he wasn’t really bad. He only failed to score once all year, in Belgium when he was crashed into on lap one. That is a pretty intimidating achievement.

Now it is no secret that Jenson Button suffered under the stress of defending his championship lead. Simply looking at his results for the season tells its own story. He was dominant in the first seven races, but occupied the lower end of the points for the rest of the season.

While some were critical of this drop in form, the fact is that almost all championship leaders do this. In fact, it would be completely foolish to any driver with a massive championship lead at the mid-way point to tackle the second half of the season in the same manner. As Ross Brawn said, if a football team is leading 3-0 at half time, they don’t play the second half in the same style as the first.

Looking back over the years, this is a pattern that is repeated time after time. The driver who leads at the halfway point of the season almost always scores fewer points in the second half of the season. Looking at the past ten seasons, the leader at the halfway point has always turned down the wick, with the exception of Fernando Alonso in 2005. The drop in performance has been particularly marked since the points system was changed for 2003, which shifted the balance towards consistency and conservatism over aggression.

(In seasons with an odd number of races, the middle race has been removed from the calculation.)

Year Leader at halfway point First half points Second half points Difference
2009 Jenson Button 69 27 42
2008 Lewis Hamilton 48 40 8
2007 Lewis Hamilton 64 39 25
2006 Fernando Alonso 84 50 34
2005 Fernando Alonso 59 74 -15
2004 Michael Schumacher 80 68 18
2003 Michael Schumacher 54 39 15
2002 Michael Schumacher 70 68 2
2001 Michael Schumacher 58 55 3
2000 Michael Schumacher 56 52 4

Clearly, Button’s drop-off was particularly extreme. However, it was not that much more extreme than Alonso’s in 2006. Alonso is rightly lauded for being conservative when he needs to be. Button should be too. Even though the drop-off seemed alarming, the fact is that he had made himself more than enough room to get away with it, and still secure the championship with one race to spare. Why expend more energy by taking the more risky strategy of going all-out for wins when you can achieve it in the way Jenson Button did?

Nonetheless, it is difficult to deny that the way Jenson Button won the championship was slightly underwhelming. It certainly wouldn’t have been very satisfying were it not for his scintillating performance in Brazil. Of course, he did indeed pull that performance out of the bag just when he needed it, so it is slightly academic now.

But by almost any measure you can conceive of, Jenson Button was the most deserving person to win the championship. I have had a look at different scoring systems that would reward more consistent performances throughout the season. Although it is always a spurious exercise to impose different scoring systems on a set of races that have already taken place (remembering that altering the incentives inevitably affects behaviour), it is interesting to look at systems that may have punished Jenson Button for not performing so well towards the end of the season.

One such system would be to split the season into, say, four sections, with drivers dropping their worst score from each quarter of the season. What with there being an odd number of races in 2009, this is affected by where you decide to place the splits. But with three sections of four races, and a final section with the final four races, this cuts Jenson Button’s lead down to just three points over Sebastian Vettel. However, Button would still win under this system.

Splitting the season into two halves and making drivers drop two scores, Button’s victory margin can be cut down to two points. However, Button still wins the championship.

The only vaguely sensible system I have been able to come up with is making drivers drop six scores from the whole season. This puts Button and Vettel level on points, although of course Button would still win the championship because he has won more races.

Only by splitting the season into two and making drivers drop three scores from each half does Vettel score more points than Button. Whether it would be desirable to have a system where six races from each driver’s season do not count towards the championship is debatable.

Looking at the results of the season, it is striking just how superior Jenson Button was to everyone else. Jenson Button only failed to score once. His nearest challenger, Vettel, chalked up five zeros. Mark Webber failed to score seven times, while Hamilton finished pointless nine times.

Button also won two more races than anyone else. To Button’s six, Vettel took the chequered flag four times, while Barrichello, Webber and Hamilton each took it twice.

In terms of the results, the clear closest challenger to Button has been Vettel. No doubt there would have been complaints about his championship too, due to his tendency still to make mistakes, and his alarming inability to overtake. And speaking of overtaking, who could deny that Button pulled off some of the best overtaking moves of the season?

Is Jenson Button a deserving champion? I can hardly imagine what more you could ask for.

This the accompanying article to my contribution to this week’s edition of The Pod Delusion. Here you can find videos and links if you want to delve further into the topic.

As you may guess from the title, this article is about motorsport. I do not normally write about motorsport on this website. That is reserved for my motorsport website, vee8. However, I have published it here as it is designed to be of interest to people who do not like motorsport.

You can listen to the full podcast below.

My name is Duncan, and I am a motorsport fan. Is it a bad thing? Am I evil? Do I need to join Petrolheads Anonymous?

This year’s Formula 1 World Championship is coming to an end. The Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships have been wrapped up by Jenson Button and Brawn-Mercedes respectively, and now we have one last race to enjoy before the sport takes a break for the winter.

This has not been an easy year to be an F1 fan. In terms of newsworthy stories, it’s the sport that keeps on giving. But even by F1’s standards, it has been an extraordinary year for scandals.

Bear in mind that in previous years Formula 1 has brought extraordinary enough stories. There was, for instance, the so-called “spying” scandal which led to the sport’s governing body, the FIA, handing the McLaren team a fine of ONE HUNDRED MEELION DOLLARS. Then there was the “German prisoner” sex scandal involving the FIA’s President Max Mosley.

This year cranked up the scandal ever-further. Even in the first race, a major scandal blew up when Lewis Hamilton and his McLaren team were caught lying to the race stewards.

It also emerged this year that the Renault team had colluded with its driver Nelsinho Piquet to deliberately crash his car to hand an advantage to his team mate Fernando Alonso in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix. This endangered the life of Piquet and of other drivers and spectators.

In the past year, two major manufacturers — Honda and BMW — have pulled out of the sport, with persistent rumours surrounding the commitment of the other manufacturers. Moreover, almost all of the teams threatened to break away from F1 to set up a rival championship, in protest at the way the sport is governed by Max Mosley and the FIA.

The governance of the sport may change this week, as Max Mosley is stepping down as FIA President. The election to replace him is taking place today, on Friday. This actually may have more widespread implications than many realise.

Even though during last year’s sex scandal Max Mosley was persistently described by the media as “F1 boss”, the job of FIA President goes much further than that. The FIA has significant sway over road safety issues and effectively represents car users on the world stage. If you are a member of the AA, the RAC or even the Camping and Caravanning Club, you are represented by the FIA.

Clearly, this year there has been a lot going on in the world of motorsport. While cynics point out that, for the sport’s commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone, any publicity is good publicity, this all served to further discredit a sport which isn’t exactly the most popular among some. Formula 1 is seen by many as a sport which is dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, the personification of greed — and perhaps even sexist.

No doubt there is an element of truth to some of these accusations. So, how does this sit with me? I am a massive fan of motorsport, but I have liberal political views and a concern for the environment. Do I lack principles? Is F1 a guilty pleasure for me?

I actually see no reason why it should be. Some motorsport fans are unapologetic about their passion, and they see no reason to dress it up as anything but an extravagant bit of fun. But I see motorsport as a positive force that has a lot to contribute to the world.

Yes, Formula 1 is dangerous. This year, one driver, Felipe Massa, had an horrific accident when he was struck on the head while travelling at 170mph by a spring as heavy as a bag of sugar which had fallen off another car and was bouncing around on the circuit. He was lucky to have suffered no long term damage. The spring destroyed his helmet, but if it had hit him at another point he could have lost his sight or even died.

Sadly, one Formula Two driver was not so lucky. Henry Surtees was killed when he was struck on the head by a tyre which was bouncing around on the circuit after it had detached from another car in another accident.

While a ticket to a grand prix states in large letters, “motor sport is dangerous”, such accidents are mercifully rare in top-line motorsport these days. Major injuries are rare, and the last fatality in Formula 1 was in 1994. Believe it or not, more than 2½ times as many people have died while competing in the Great North Run than have died in F1 since 1981, when the Great North Run began.

But this year’s events in motorsport show that complacency should never set in, which is why improvements in safety are always being pushed forward. Perhaps the real scandal though is that, despite the increasingly safe environment that professional racing drivers face, 1.3 million people still die on the world’s roads every year.

F1 technology can play a major role in reducing the number of accidents on public roads, and already has done. In 2007, one F1 driver, Robert Kubica, survived a 75g impact with nothing more than light concussion. The materials that make an F1 car so safe are exotic and expensive, meaning that the opportunities to help make road cars safer using F1 research are a bit limited.

But electronics such as ABS and traction control are commonplace on today’s road cars. Such technologies unquestionably save lives all the time, and their development was helped by early applications in racing cars.

The money that flows through F1, and the high-stakes nature of the competition, make it a great test bed for important technologies that improve our daily lives. F1 is an R&D powerhouse.

There is currently an exhibition in the Science Museum in London called Fast Forward, which showcases twenty instances of F1 technology improving the lives of others.

Included on display are high-tech tyre pressure indicators which alert drivers to a developing puncture before it becomes dangerous. Then there are F1 materials being used to help protect troops in Afghanistan from bullets and explosions. Slip-resistant boots based on F1 tyre technology for people who work in slippery environments, thereby reducing injuries in the workplace, are also on display.

A bit more down to earth is the gadget that can stop your central heating system from becoming clogged up with rust and sludge, thereby reducing energy consumption in the home. Hospitals have even analysed mechanics’ behaviour and procedures during pitstops in order to improve the speed and accuracy of medical teams.

But how about the environmental impact of this gas-guzzling sport? I must say that my view is that rather too much is made of this. That is not to say that Formula 1 does not a significant environmental impact — it does. But emissions from the F1 cars themselves are actually a drop in the ocean. The racing itself does little environmental damage.

What is really damaging is all the travelling that teams, the media and fans must do in order to attend the races. The good news on this front is that F1 is carbon neutral, and has been since 1997. The FIA Foundation, the charity arm of the FIA, has taken into account not only emissions from the F1 cars and the travel of the teams, but also the transport of the fans that attend the races.

But any activity that involves being somewhere requires travel. F1 is a global sport, so there is a lot of global travel involved. But otherwise the sport actually seems rather restrained. In just 17-or-so races, a World Champion driver emerges.

Compare this to another competition, say the English Premier League in football. To come up with a mere national league-winning club, 380 football matches must be played, with all the travel this entails too. In comparison, F1 looks positively restrained.

Maybe that is an apples-and-oranges comparsion. It is just as well, then, that F1 technology also looks set to pave the way towards a green future. Formula 1 has the potential to help greatly reduce energy consumption. Refuelling during races will be banned from next year, shifting the balance more towards fuel consumption rather than raw power.

Another major initiative is the Kinetic Energy Recovery System, or kers, which the FIA finally legalised for this season. Kers is a system which harvests the kinetic energy that is dissipated under braking and would otherwise be wasted, and re-deploys that energy into the powertrain.

This technology has had a rather troubled birth in F1. The systems have been too expensive for teams to develop in the current economic climate, and it looks as though kers may take a back seat for a few years. There is also scepticism over whether kers as it is applied in F1 is actually relevant to road cars.

But one team, Williams, is adamant that its flywheel system will find a large variety of applications in the real world. The team says that its energy recovery system could improve road cars, vehicles used in mining, rail systems and “anything that moves”.

(For more on this, I highly recommend the recording of a Q&A with the Technical Director of Williams, Sam Michael. I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Williams F1 factory earlier this year along with a number of other web journalists and bloggers. The excellent Brits on Pole website has fantastic coverage of the visit.)

Plans continue to gather pace on this front. On Wednesday, the FIA outlined its plans for a green future of F1 (PDF). This includes a plan to make motorsport a competition based more on efficiency than raw power, and a stronger focus on energy recovery technologies.

The FIA also plans to introduce its own carbon neutral scheme, including offsetting its regulatory presence. It may also make carbon offsetting a condition of involvement in a championship.

So there you have it. Motorsport is a force for good in the world. Not bad for something that is hugely enjoyable. My halo is in tact.

I see that The Scotsman has again been trying to wring another story out of a politician’s use of Twitter. This time it is Jo Swinson exposing her ignorance about football.

As she was overwhelmed by members of the Tartan Army at a railway station, Ms Swinson got out her BlackBerry, logged on to her Twitter site and wrote: “Have I missed something? What’s the football festivity? Can’t move at Queen Street station for folk in Scotland tops.”

Seven minutes later, Graham Barrie posted: “The Tartan Army v the Dutch Army tonight at Hampden Jo. You really need to get out more :)”

Jeff and Mr Eugenides both have good takes on this. I have to agree with them. For some, football is a matter of life and death. The Scotsman‘s David Maddox calls the match “do-or-die”. But in truth, it isn’t much more than a slightly tedious playground game.

The Scotland–Netherlands tie wasn’t exactly in my diary, though it is true that I was quite aware of it thanks to my football-loving friends. My own take on the match, as published on Twitter, would probably have got me into more trouble. I wasn’t merely ignorant; I was aware, but sarcastic and dismissive:

Advice to football fans: Scotland won’t win the World Cup, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with it.

I find it difficult to get excited about football at the best of times. My enthusiasm for Scotland internationals is marginally above zilch. In my defence, I was rather put off by the fact that last month I was taken by a friend to the pub to watch what I was told would be a football match but turned out to be a disaster film. Strange.

Really, you could argue that the people who don’t think about football are making the right decision. All that worrying over whether Scotland gets knocked out in this round or that does seem to be a waste of energy. And I can well imagine Jo Swinson has plenty of other things to occupy her time with.

This comes just a few months after Patrick Harvie was at the centre of another Twitter row manufactured by David Maddox. His crime was to discreetly tweet at the dinner table, something which I think many people do.

I don’t get this obsession with politicians having to be identikit robots who all have to be up-to-date on the price of milk, whatever music is in the charts and some tedious sporting exploit. I have written about this phenomenon before, and my views haven’t changed.

The fact is that there are 646 MPs and 129 MSPs. If you took 775 random people, you can be guaranteed to find people who couldn’t give two hoots about football and couldn’t tell you how much a loaf of bread costs. You would certainly find plenty of people who didn’t feel the need to contrive odd opinions about the Arctic Monkeys. Yet we expect all this from our politicians. Why?

On the one hand people criticise politicians for being almost like robots if they are perceived to toe the party line, talk in soundbites or reel off reams of irrelevant statistics. But then if they reveal a bit of their personality by representing part of the variety of society by not fitting a media-constructed template of what a “normal person” is expected to be, they are blasted for being “out of touch”.

I can more easily admire Jo Swinson for her personal choice not to worry about football than any politician who feels the need to pretend they are interested when they are so clearly not. Indeed, Jeff’s comparison with Gordon Brown’s uneasy comments about Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in Euro 96 reveals that this is one of those issues where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

While you would expect parliamentarians to have a knowledge of certain things in order to do their job, there’s nothing wrong with them being human when it comes to their personal interests. In cases like this, it is those in the media who seem more out of touch.

Last night I was a bit bored so I indulged in a spot of channel surfing to see if there was anything decent on. There usually isn’t. But even with my lowered expectations, my jaw literally dropped when I saw what STV were broadcasting — STV Roulette.

Yes, if you thought dodgy gambling programmes were the preserve of the arse end of the Sky channel list, think again. It is right here on Scotland’s Channel 3 franchise, a public service broadcaster no less. You will be delighted to know that STV plan on broadcasting this tat three days a week, for three hours a day.

Presumably this is part of of STV’s much-hyped strategy of promoting “home produced content”. However, STV Roulette and the STV Casino website are produced by NetPlay TV, whose studios are in London.

In recent times, STV has increasingly pursued a strategy of turning down the opportunity to broadcast some of ITV’s best programmes in favour of showing dodgy local clip shows, American imports and… oh, “home produced content”. But the identity of this “home produced content” remains a mystery to viewers. That is probably because it simply doesn’t exist.

I suppose Fitz — a cheap American import — is supposed to count. Apparently it has some kind of vague connection to Cracker. So the trailer tells us anyway. In fact, “Fitz” turned out to be a description of what STV viewers go through every time they realise that their favourite programme has been ditched in favour of some kind of low budget michty-me, jings, crivens and help ma boab bunch of SHITE.

Oh, and apparenty South Park counts as “home produced content” because, in the words of STV’s Managing Director of Broadcast Services, Bobby Hain, it is “mischievous and cheeky”, just like Scottish people! Huh?!

This new found love for “local” programming really is rich coming from STV too. This is a station that, just a few years ago, would do anything to avoid showing locally produced programmes. It blatantly reached its quota of regional programmes with cynical late-night repeats of Weir’s Way and extra editions of Scotland Today Interpreted For The Deaf. As if the ploy wasn’t blatant enough, these showings were ramped up a bit towards the end of the year as well, presumably because the quota needed filling.

I think a lot of people assumed that STV had already been taken over by ITV plc, which sadly is not the case. Any bosses who think people tune in to watch STV are living in cloud cuckoo land. They press button 3 to watch ITV, and expect to watch ITV programmes. That is because regional television is an anachronism that viewers do not care about. This is why STV’s odd strategy has proved so controversial.

STV’s plan wouldn’t be so laughable if it wasn’t based on the totally bogus premise that anyone actually likes regional variations. As I have written before, regional variations are always rubbish, as this excellent clip from The Armando Iannucci Shows ably explains:

I know plenty of people who have mentioned in passing how upset they are that STV refuse to broadcast their favourite programmes. Among the programmes missed by Scottish viewers are showings of the FA Cup, The Bill, Midsomer Murders, Kingdom… I could go on.

New episodes of Lewis are not broadcast, but repeats are fine. New episodes of Poirot are bumped in favour of repeats of Poirot. If those have run out they will show a series of South Park. Other gaps can be filled with cheaply-sourced American imports, Irish (!) imports or films.

That shows up the policy for what it is. This stunt is nothing to do with locally produced programming. This is no favour to the Scottish viewers. It’s all about money. Or so you would think. Quite how STV intends to increase advertising revenues by showing a load of cheap C-grade crap in place of what the viewers are actually expecting is a mystery to all.

STV Roulette is a prime example of STV’s clueless desperation to make money. It is not as if ITV plc has a better record in this department. A couple of years ago it fell in love with the then-fashionable “quiz television” fad, where late-night viewers would be goaded into phoning a premium rate number to answer a question with no proper answer. ITV even set up an entire channel, ITV Play, dedicated to the genre. That was until the public realised they were being hoodwinked, bad publicity ensued and the whole quiz television industry backfired on itself.

At least ITV have got over the fad however. STV seems not to have noticed that it’s bad form to put on this sort of programming. It apparently has no qualms about dedicating 9 hours per week of its channel towards encouraging late-night (i.e. drunk) viewers to gamble.

Sometimes I wonder if STV’s real strategy is to deliberately drive itself into the ground. That way it wouldn’t have to bother with all of that pesky “catering to the viewers” or “making money” business like other commercial channels. Instead it could rely on subsidies for its eternal existence. Genius.

It is already going cap in hand asking for a £5 million subsidy in return for carrying out one of its obligations as a public service broadcaster. Apparently five mil a “reasonable sum”. I am not sure how many people would agree with that, though I reckon a lot of people would be more receptive to the request if they actually showed any sign of wishing to serve their viewers rather than going on some odd crusade of apparent self-destruction.

Watch STV? I’ll opt out, thanks.

I was interested in this recent article about SNP MSP Kenny Gibson’s comments about Reporting Scotland (via cobaltmale). For him, BBC Scotland’s flagship news programme is too parochial. Apparently the way to fix this would be the creation of a Scottish Six.

It would mean you would have less of the Mrs-McGlumpha’s-cat-caught-up-a-tree-type stories that you sometimes get on Reporting Scotland.

There would be things presented from an international perspective rather than at present, which is still on occasion mind-numbingly parochial in my view – that would be a better way forward.

Before proceeding, I should point out that I am in favour of the Scottish Six. But I do have one problem with the idea.

I don’t follow Kenny Gibson’s logic that by increasing the length of Reporting Scotland, you will have fewer cat-up-a-tree stories. Sure, a Scottish Six would cover all of the important international news and UK-wide news that is salient to Scottish viewers. But then what?

I would guess that on most days, that would fill 40 minutes tops. Don’t forget that a Scottish Six would remove any “Englandandwales”-only stories, which could easily trim five or ten minutes off the Six on many days.

Given that the current Six O’Clock News-and-Reporting Scotland slot is almost an hour long, it seems to me that there would be a lot of time to fill. When you consider that it is followed by the dire One Show, filled with its own type of cat-up-a-tree stories, the problem is accentuated. It’s bad enough having half an hour of dross on prime time BBC One. We don’t want even more.

Maybe it is a prestige thing though. A confidence thing. Part of the nationalist argument is that Scotland has latent abilities that are locked up as a result of its participation in the union. Maybe they also think that a Reporting Scotland with an upgraded “Scottish Six” status will result in the producers and journalists coming up with a better product. Who’s to say that’s not possible?

Perhaps the most lamentable thing about Reporting Scotland is not so much the quality of the programme, which I think is not too bad. The main problem is the fact that I couldn’t honestly tell you that today’s Reporting Scotland was all that different to the programme that existed before devolution. It is still presented as a local news programme; a disposable appendix of the Six.

This adds to the perception that the Scottish media has, counter-intuitively, withered in the devolution era. Faced with more news to report in the form of a devolved Parliament, Scotland’s media has in fact failed to step up to the plate and is by most accounts weaker than it has ever been.

Unlike the newspapers, Reporting Scotland is funded by the license fee. So it doesn’t feel the pinch in quite the same way as commercial outlets. Maybe there is an opportunity for BBC Scotland to fill the gap that is being left by Scotland’s media by going ahead and launching the Scottish Six.

There is still something inside me that doubts that the Scottish Six could successfully fill an hour-long slot. When you watch Reporting Scotland, most days they are already talking about sport (almost always football, and usually just Rangers or Celtic) just ten or fifteen minutes after the programme has started. With more time to fill, we might have to get used to the real cat-up-a-tree stories.