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Sport’s inconvenient truth

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Let’s talk performance-enhancing drugs. Someone has to.

On the surface, it’s been a good couple of years for the doping authorities. Lance Armstrong was nailed, no major current sportsmen proven to be doping, and so few positives that they could point in the direction of EPO and steroids and say “that’s in the past”.

But is that really the case? Is top level sport clean, or do we just want it to be clean?

There’s a danger in finding out about doping in sport because it destroys the naivety of our default position as sport fans – that everyone at the top is clean and performing wonderful feats at the limit of human capability. We don’t like to ask questions because we’re afraid of what we’ll find out. Once you start asking doubting one feat, you end up doubting every single one.

For instance, Britain really enjoyed doing well and winning lots of medals at the 2012 Olympics. It’s easy to put this down to more abstract factors or things that are difficult to prove, like “better training regimes”, “better organisation” or simply “the home crowd factor”. No one is suggesting that British athletes doped. No one is even asking “why did that guy go from mediocre to brilliant?” or “how did she suddenly become so good?” It’s just taken as a given that British athletes did well because they’re great and their coaches are great and the fans are great. British athletes would never dope – we’re better than that. Really?

The doping question is that bad memory you want to suppress and pretend is gone but is actually still there lodged in the back of your brain. But now with Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Nesta Carter, three of the fastest men over 100m in history, testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, this is no longer something that we can suppress or say was happening in the past. It is still here – doping is almost certainly still widespread in sport. It’s a bleak reality, but the question isn’t “of the top sportsmen and women, who’s doping?” but “of the top sportsmen and women, who’s clean?”

The context of these latest big name positive tests is quite important in understanding the whole issue.

A decade ago, there was much competition for that same 100m crown. Americans dominated – Maurice Greene won in Sydney in 2000, a year after setting a new world record of 9.79 seconds. Between Sydney and Athens, Tim Montgomery appeared as a rival, edging Greene’s mark by 0.01 in 2002, before being charged with taking PEDs and eventually being stripped of his times. Nonetheless, the Athens games saw another American winner of the 100m with Justin Gatlin the surprise winner. Gatlin would go on to set a personal best of 9.77 in 2006, equalling the new record set by Powell in 2005, before he too was found out shortly after, the second positive test of his career (he managed to get out of the first in 2001 on the grounds that he was taking medication for attention deficit disorder).

Then Usain Bolt turned up and everyone stopped thinking.

Think about that for a minute – the world record went up incrementally over a period of 6 years; athletes were unable to go more than 0.01 seconds faster, and when they did, they were usually found out to be taking PEDs. Every single one of those guys has now either tested positive or, in Greene’s case (courtesy of Angel Heredia), been strongly linked to PED usage. And then suddenly this young Jamaican guy comes along and smashes their times, eventually doing a 9.58 – that’s two tenths of a second faster than the maximum known dopers were able to achieve. Over 100m, that’s a lifetime. By now, the Bloody Suspicious Klaxon should be blaring in your head.

But will you see the media discussing this? No. For them it’s best to continue the illusion, if it is indeed that. Build them up and then knock them down when it’s convenient. And besides, we shouldn’t speculate, should we? Innocent until proven guilty and all that…

But this is the problem. Montgomery never tested positive. Neither did former women’s 100m record holder Marion Jones who was in the same circle, Victor Conte’s BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative) operation. This also included numerous other leading athletes, including Dwain Chambers, as well as MLB stars, including record-breaker Barry Bonds, and NFL players. Very few of these actually tested positive. It was eventually proven through the law courts, not in the labs.

The golden rule of doping is that the dopers are always ahead of the testers. This has always been the case through history. The old adage that cheats never prosper is a lie – they often do. Many are found out but I’m sure there are some that will never be.

Focusing on athletics and in particular sprinting for a minute, why do we assume that they aren’t doping? Aside from blind faith, we’re told that testing is better and that the doping authorities are winning the fight. The evidence? Well, various stats and figures. And then Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell test positive. Admittedly this is only informed speculation, but dopers tend not to dope for a one-off, mainly because it doesn’t work like that – there’s a good chance Gay and Powell have been doing this all along.

If major athletes like them can slip through the net, how can we believe that testing is better and that the doping authorities are winning the fight? They have some nice heads to mount on their wall now but if anything this raises more questions about them than actually being something to celebrate.

Sprinting had successfully rid itself of the image of being riddled with doping on account of one athlete that we the lay people could all recognise as being great just by watching. Cycling is trying to follow this. Now that Lance’s head is on a spike and his competitors of the early 2000s have virtually all owned up too, and with no evidence of any major positives (i.e. anyone the public would recognise) in the last couple of years, the issue of doping is once again being brushed under the carpet by most of those in the mainstream media. And yet if you dip beneath the surface, as in athletics, there is plenty of speculation.

The problem is Team Sky are pretty much the US Postal Service/Discovery Channel team reincarnate. From the super-organised nature of the team to the style in which it goes about its racing there’s very little in it – in general, it’s the win-at-all-costs approach. But they have also learned from USPS – whereas Lance was always confrontational in his rebuttals about the doping questions (until it became obvious), Dave Brailsford and Sky have tried to be softer and more open. Having the might of News Corporation behind you probably helps too.

The arch-propagandists of the sport lead us to believe that doping in cycling tailed off after Lance retired, Floyd Landis was caught and the authorities “started taking things seriously”. Times went up, which is supposedly evidence of this (because, you know, it’s not like the teams would intentionally dope a little bit less to make it seem less obvious – isn’t that right, Alberto?). Sky are part of this new generation and have the support of Britain behind them, a nation that is starting to fully embrace the sport for the first time. But that may be the problem.

Imagine you’re in charge of investigating doping in cycling – do you want to be the one to upset the whole nation of Britain by outing Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome as dopers, therefore implicating Team Sky, Dave Brailsford and, by extension, the enormously successful British cycling operation as a whole? Do you want to face the wrath of the British media? Do you want cycling to lose even more credibility?

Tyler Hamilton’s recent autobiography was a game-changer for a lot of people, including myself. The main issue that came out of it was not that USPS riders were doped up to the eyeballs – we knew that anyway. It was that the cycling authorities knew the USPS riders were doped up to the eyeballs. They knew that the dominant team in cycling was cheating, that every other team was cheating, and they brushed it under the carpet for the sake of viewing figures. Corruption, basically.

The concerning thing is there’s nothing to stop that happening again. There’s nothing to say that that’s not going on today – that Team Sky are doping, that the cycling authorities know about this, and that they are covering it up to keep the British and everyone else who believes in the Tour de France and the sport of cycling happy. Because money is king. And if you piss Murdoch off, there ain’t much hope for you…

And the implications of this aren’t just for cycling. They are for athletics, football, tennis, Formula One, the NFL – you name it. What the USPS case proves is that sport authorities are willing to allow their sport to become a charade, because people don’t care. The media dare not ask questions and most casual observers aren’t inclined to ask questions proactively. They prefer to watch believing what they see is real competition between clean sportsmen. They prefer not to question. After all, our natural instinct when watching sport is to believe what you’re seeing is genuine in the moment, and then question it later on.

Ultimately if the media revealed the whole thing to be a drug-fuelled sham, they would sell less newspapers or have less viewers. And even then, the Armstrong example proves that even if you provide hard evidence that a beloved sportsman is doping, half his fans won’t believe it anyway – there are plenty of people that still believe Lance was clean, while many others refused to believe it until the Oprah interview, despite all the evidence staring them in the face.

So where’s the motivation to reveal that the big names in a sport are cheating? The answer is there isn’t any – it would be counter-productive.

This isn’t a massive conspiracy theory – it’s logical. A sport will protect its own interests and get away with what it can. Keep them sweet by chucking in a couple of obvious positives here and there, and people will believe it – it’s more believable if there are one or two big names found out every so often than if no one was testing positive. Sports cannot be trusted to root out the cheats.

Usain Bolt will probably never test positive. Or, at least if he does, it won’t be until towards the end of his career as with Gay and Powell – by whenever he has outlived his usefulness to the sport. Does this mean he is clean? No. I believe there is enough evidence to suggest that you cannot trust the doping authorities and the sports authorities any more, so I feel entitled to be able to speculate. Sprinting, and by extension athletics as a whole, has to re-earn my trust again.

To me, it seems unlikely that anyone who has run below 9.80 seconds in the 100m is clean. It took an enormous doping effort to get from 9.79 to 9.78, let alone 9.58. Bolt is now essentially now 0.25 faster than the nearest athlete that might be clean. That’s a massive red flag in my eyes. He was a breath of fresh air when he burst onto the scene and we all fell in love with him, but the guy’s suspicious now.

Similarly, in cycling, I have suspicions about Team Sky. They may be open and relatively mild-mannered, but there are questions. Chris Froome has come from nowhere over the last two years to become superficially one of the best riders ever. His time climbing Mont Ventoux a few days ago nearly matched Armstrong’s, and his recoveries between stages are extraordinary. That’s not normal. That’s superhuman. And once you start using that word, alarm bells should be ringing.

If Team Sky are doping, that raises questions about the British Olympic cycling team, for which Brailsford is also responsible. If there are questions about the cycling team, by extension you have to look at other British athletes. The old “the British don’t dope, we’re too fair” trope is nonsense. Doping is not just for Eastern European women with hairy armpits – we passed that 30 years ago, and they were a convenient target even then. Nor can we just blame the Spaniards because of Operacion Puerto. A competitive sportsman or sportswoman who wants to win at all costs is without nationality.

Mo Farah. I ran home from the pub to watch him win his first gold last year. A few weeks later, I stumbled upon an athletics forum and many of those discussing there were convinced he was doping. I looked into it. His coach, Alberto Salazar, claims to be clean, but also likes to say he pushes the boundaries. Oh really? Couple that with Farah’s meteoric rise over the last couple of years, something that should always raise questions, and I’m now suspicious. And what about other British athletes? These are legitimate questions now, questions which need to be asked instead of being swept under the carpet with the implication that anyone who asks them is a tin-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.

In the aftermath of Gay and Powell’s positive tests, 100m star Yohan Blake, 800m world record holder David Rudisha and 1500m Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi all withdrew from this summer’s World Championships in Moscow with “injury” or “illness”. Uh, hello? You don’t think that’s awfully convenient? Blake already has a positive test on his record. Is this thing on?

Barcelona’s astonishing football has raised questions, but not loudly enough to get above the sycophancy of the mainstream football media. Their endurance and recovery is exceptional – how they can play such an intensive style of football without getting tired seems superhuman. Then they were beaten to the La Liga title by Real Madrid, who were managed by a manager who at a previous club talked of “Dr Needles” and hinted at giving players “supplements” – look, I like Mourinho, but you can’t say his practices aren’t suspicious. And then Barca were beaten by Bayern Munich in the Champions League this year, whose club doctor has controversial methods and has worked with Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt…

But you won’t see this in the papers. Talk of doping in sport is left for the message boards and the occasional blogger. Bill Simmons’ exceptional article for Grantland earlier this year is one of the few to attack this from a different angle, instead of sticking to the safe, unquestioning “well none of them have tested positive so they must be clean, anyway let’s talk about something else” line.

Sport hides this. It bottles it up. But it’s only serving to make us look stupid years on down the line, when someone will inevitably break the secret and everyone says “oh how could we have been fooled? It should have been obvious.” The sports authorities will walk away with no damage – the burden of guilt and embarrassment is left not with those involved, but the innocent party, the viewers. We shouldn’t accept that. Nor should we accept counter-arguments like “everyone else was doping too” and “what’s so bad about performance-enhancing drugs anyway?” We are being lied to by everyone within that sport who knows what is going on.

Ask questions. Be suspicious. Don’t be afraid to speculate. Don’t be afraid to accuse. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied by those that say there is no evidence. After Armstrong, Gay and Powell, professional sport can no longer expect us to trust it.

Images used in the spirit of fair use. Because it’s important to be fair, isn’t it?


Written by James Bennett

July 18, 2013 at 15:56

The Top 10 Most Beautiful F1 Cars of the 1990s

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I don’t usually use a list format, and neither do I post about F1 very often. But with Welsh Grand Prix dormant, this might as well go here.

I could have done this as a “Top 10 Sexiest F1 Cars of All Time” article, but then gone for all 1990s cars and as a result be accused of bias and neglecting the beauties of the 50s, 60s, 80s, and 2000s (it is of course fact that no beautiful F1 cars were made in the 1970s). I grew up with 1990s F1 so I prefer the cars from that period. So instead of attracting pedantic whinges about a trivial subjective matter, I’ll just restrict my choices to The Official Best Decade of F1. To help with this, I’ve restricted to one entry per team. And liveries count – of course they count, they are a big part of what makes a car attractive.

So stick on some appropriate music and read on.

All image sources are unknown, with the images reproduced in the spirit of ‘fair use’

10. Andrea Moda-Judd S921 (1992)
Yes, I’m starting with one of the worst cars to hit the track during the decade. Now, obscure or slow F1 cars aren’t always automatically attractive because of novelty value – the 1997 Lola T97/30 is a nice-looking chassis with a pretty ghastly livery that more people would complain about had it seen more than a couple of practice and qualifying sessions.

But the only ever Andrea Moda to officially participate in a race is a thing of beauty, with a complex background. It was originally designed by Nick Wirth’s Simtek firm (more on them shortly) for a provisional BMW entry for the 1990 season which was aborted. The designs were hurriedly bought by shoe magnate Andrea Sassetti in early 1992, the new owner of the former Coloni team, when it became clear that the 1991 Colonis were awful – the Andrea Moda team had been denied entry for the first race in South Africa for not having bought Coloni’s entry.

When the S921 eventually turned a wheel for the first time at Interlagos, the third venue of the season, it was pretty evident that it was a poor car. Well, not just poor – absolutely abysmal. After all, it was a design that was a good two or three years out of date, and now it was being prepared by a small team working on a shoestring. There were numerous technical issues – second driver Perry McCarthy, who made his first appearance in Spain, got as far as the end of the pit lane before breaking down, and later survived a steering seizure going through Eau Rouge at Spa, somehow avoiding a huge accident.

But before the inevitable end of the team, booted out after the Belgian Grand Prix for sheer incompetence and financial irregularities, they did at least manage to start one race. Somehow Roberto Moreno, lead driver of the team and a favourite of minnow teams, dragged the heap of junk through pre-qualifying and then to 26th in qualifying, enough to get him into the field. It lasted all of 11 laps before engine failure, but it was still a remarkable feat, a testament to the Brazilian’s under-appreciated abilities.

If you want to read more on the Andrea Moda saga, have a look at Scott Russell’s comprehensive article about the team at CFM.

9. Williams-Renault FW18 (1996)
This one is a bit personal, because I was a massive Damon Hill fan and am currently in possession of a massive framed print of this car. But you can’t dispute that it is a great looking car.

It was of course bloody fast as well. Damon became the first driver in the modern era to qualify on the front row of every GP in a season, and the team won 12 out of the 16 races. It will go down as one of the most dominant cars in F1 history that no one really acknowledges as dominant, overshadowed by the earlier McLarens and Williamses and the later Ferraris, which is odd considering no one seems to rate Hill and Jacques Villeneuve that highly.

The Rothmans livery is a classic, regardless of which car it was on – the 1982 March, mid 80s Porsche and Metro rally cars, the early 90s Subaru Legacy and the four Williamses. The 1998 change to Winfield red was a travesty in my eyes – no Williams should have ever been red, and it still doesn’t look right today. Over a decade later, the team decided to paint the 2011 car in the style of the Rothmans colours, as a homage to a more successful period in the team’s history. However, if the intention was to bring back the good times, it didn’t work.

8. Simtek-Ford S941 (1994)
This is a brilliant picture, of a beautiful car. It is, of course, tinged with regret, for this is Roland Ratzenberger blasting around Imola on That Weekend in 1994. It is for this that the Simtek team is generally remembered.

Nick Wirth’s outfit was a consultancy firm, backed by none other than future FIA generalissimo Max Mosley. As mentioned earlier, they designed what became the Andea Moda S921 (hence the similar name code), and also designed a car for the Bravo team, which was due to enter F1 in 1993 until the team owner, Jean-Francois Mosnier, died suddenly. Despite the fact that someone on high was clearly telling Wirth he shouldn’t be doing this, he made the decision for the company to enter F1 in its own right in 1994. The Bravo designs were updated, and he obtained backing from MTV Europe which was supposed to involved a TV show that never happened. Ratzenberger was hired alongside David Brabham, whose father Jack was a shareholder in the team.

After the Austrian’s death, the second seat became a revolving door of pay drivers – Andrea Montermini was injured in a crash in practice at Catalunya, while Jean-Marc Gounon was eventually superseded by the monied Domenico Schiattarella and future F1 clown Taki Inoue. The car did manage a couple of top 10s, but back then only the top 6 was rewarded with points, so it was academic. The successor, the S951, had a bit more potential, especially in the hands of Jos Verstappen who ran in the top 6 in Argentina before a heart-breaking gearbox failure. But the team soon ran out of money and was liquidated shortly after skipping the Canadian GP. Wirth later had a stint as designer for Benetton, and later founded Wirth Research, essentially Simtek Mk 2, designing cars for Acura and Virgin Racing.

Both Simteks were very attractive in their purple and black colours. Like the earlier Andrea Moda, the S941 was a very clean, simple design, which is always great F1 eye candy. It is a shame that the team is not remembered for this.

7. Prost-Peugeot AP02 (1999)

The 1999 Prost is one of only two cars from after 1997 on the list. The reason? For 1998, F1 cars changed forever, with rules restricting the width which led designers to new and increasingly ugly ways of finding downforce, leading us to today’s hideous lot. The grooved dry tyres were a bit of an issue as well. So it would have to take a pretty special car to get on the list.

And it was a pretty special car. But in looks only. The Prost Grand Prix story is one of failed promise. When Alain Prost bought the Ligier team, he inherited a team on the up, which had just designed one of the best cars of the year, with one of the best engines, on the new Bridgestone tyres which would prove surprisingly effective over the course of the season. Prost proved that his driving skills did not guarantee he was any good at running an F1 team by blowing most of this – he traded engines with Jordan, taking their Peugeot units in exchange for Prost’s Mugens, which proved to be disastrous, while the follow-up to the 1997 car was a sack of shit, scoring 1 point all year.

The one thing Prost GP did get right, though, was introducing metallic blue into their livery, moving away from the lighter shade of the last couple of Ligiers. The cars were great to look at but usually slow. The 1999 car was the best of the four cars designed after Prost’s takeover. Jarno Trulli picked up an unlikely 2nd place at the increadible European GP at the Nurburgring, thanks to not crashing, clever tyre changes and not crashing. Aside from that, there was nothing much to shout about – three 6 places, and that’s it. 9 points. But still, that’s 9 points more than they scored the following season.

The enigmatic ForzaMinardi wrote this on Prost for CFM which details their struggles further.

6. Tyrrell-Ford 019 (1990)

Any car Jean Alesi drove is beautiful. Regardless of his abilities as a driver (and he was the second most naturally-gifted driver of his generation, behind one M Schumacher of course), he had a knack for picking teams that built staggeringly awesome cars. Two of them will feature in this list.

Now the Tyrrell 019 is a bit before my team, as I wasn’t actually born until just under a year after it first appeared. But I didn’t restrict this to cars built in my lifetime, and it’s such a gorgeous car it would be wrong to not include it. It was also significant for launching the career of Jean Alesi – design veteran Harvey Postlethwaite designed a pretty damn good car, Tyrrell’s first for 7 years, and came up with a radical new nose in the process that was to reshape F1 cars forever. Alesi drove the wheels off it, picking up a couple of podiums and battling with Senna along the way. It was to be Tyrrell’s Indian summer, though, and unfortunately it would end without a final victory.

An honourable mention must go to the follow-up, the Honda-engined 020. It was very much the same in appearance but painted black and white instead – it’s nice, but to me, not very Tyrrell-ish. It was also not as good, and thus not as iconic as the 1990 car.

5. McLaren-Mercedes MP4/12 (1997)
For McLaren, 1997 was, visually at least, a break from the past. Their long-running partnership with Marlboro ended after the 1996 season, and they agreed to replace one tobacco brand with another with West, who had previously sponsored the Zakspeed team. But while the Zakspeeds had a similar(-ish) red and white scheme to the Marlboro McLarens, when the covers came off at the huge, over-indulgent launch party at Alexandra Palace (which included performances from the Spice Girls and Jamiroquai), what was revealed was not another red and white McLaren, but something that looked more like…hmm, I don’t know, a Mercedes?

Which is rather convenient considering the German marque had strengthened its ties with the team over the winter. The choice of a German tobacco brand and a livery evoking the Silver Arrows of the 1930s and 1950s thus make sense. But corporate reasons aside, it was a brilliant livery, quite a shock to the system at first but an instant classic.

The livery would adorn McLarens until West ended their sponsorship of the team after the EU tobacco advertising ban in 2005, with McLaren choosing the current chrome silver colour scheme that their cars still carry today. This was by far the best of the cars to carry those colours, mainly because it was the first and thus had the biggest impact. But it’s still a great-looking car regardless – unconventional but it works. It was also the first McLaren to win an F1 GP for 3 and a half years when David Coulthard won the season-opening Australian GP. After this, McLaren were back as a competitive force.

4. Arrows A19 (1998)

Yeah, I’m a sucker for black cars. Who isn’t? But this one is the best of them all, even if it’s a post-97 car. What an absolutely stunning livery. What an absolutely stunning car. Especially when combined with Mika Salo’s distinctive helmet.

All-black cars are sexy because they are generally quite rare. BAR/Honda occasionally had a black testing livery, while A1 GP’s Team New Zealand had a similar scheme. But the A19 is the pinnacle, because it’s black and silver.

It wasn’t necessarily a brilliant car. Arrows never exactly made brilliant cars, anyway – even when John Barnard was designing them, as was the case with this one. The A19 came off the back of the enormously-disappointing 1997 season, where Damon Hill arrived, tried, crashed, nearly won and then disappeared in the space of a season. They also lost Yamaha backing at the end of the season, leading to the team badging their own engines for the season in the absence of Tom Walkinshaw’s deal with another manufacturer.

The car’s best result came, like the other black car on the list, at Monaco, where Salo finished an impressive 4th and Pedro Diniz followed him home in 6th. A 5th at Spa for Diniz gave the team a total of 6 points for the season – not exactly unexpected but not very good either. This would lead to the infamous deal with the Nigerian prince (yes, people got suckered in before the internet was popular), Tora Takagi and more failed promises before the team eventually went under in 2002.

3. Benetton-Ford B194

Benetton is known for two things – provocative ad campaigns involving AIDS victims, newborn babies and the like, and owning an F1 team. Quite a successful F1 team too. And one that made beautiful cars.

From 1989 on, Benetton became an increasingly powerful force in F1. Though the company’s name and colours had been on cars since it hooked up with Alfa Romeo in 1984, two years before buying out the Toleman team, it was when the team started edging towards the head of the field that people started taking notice, in much the same way that people didn’t really think much of Red Bull until Adrian Newey got involved. In Benetton’s case, the key was not one man but a number of them – genius designer Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds were later joined by Ross Brawn, with Flavio Briatore overseeing it all by 1990. The win total gradually crept up.

1994 was the big year. The new rules limiting technology shook up the order, lead driver Michael Schumacher was maturing, and Ayrton Senna…well, yeah, we know what happened to him. The B194 was the best car out there and was now being driven by the best driver. What could possibly go wrong?

1994 is a year of myth and legend, and I don’t think you need me to go into it for the nth time. What Benetton did or didn’t do is a matter of immense, tiresome debate in the pub (or an internet forum, as is more likely for 21st century F1 fans). The fact is the car was, err, officially legal. But regardless of what was going on inside (and I can say the same for the Toyota Celica GT-Four too), it’s a beautiful car. The combination of Mild Seven blue and Benetton green is an odd one at first glance – and some may prefer the earlier yellow and green Camel liveries – but for some reason, it works for me.

Also, I have a programme from the 1994 Australian GP, and it’s on the front cover (from above). So it’s a personal thing too. I appreciate it may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s one of my favourite F1 cars ever. So there.

2. Jordan-Ford 191 (1991)

That picture is iconic. This is of course Michael Schumacher during his first F1 race weekend at Spa, his only race for Jordan which lasted all of a few hundred yards. Michael caused a stir when he turned up, at a track he had never driven (despite telling Eddie Jordan otherwise), and trounced his team mate Andrea de Cesaris, before burning up his clutch at the start.

But while that classic F1 story is usually the only mention the 191 gets (other than in beauty contests like this one), the background is quite interesting. This was Jordan’s first season in F1 after considerable success in junior formulae. Gary Anderson nailed the car design, and the team was competitive straight away. The competitive Ford engines helped, but you can’t fluke a consistent point-scoring machine in your first season – 5th in the constructors championship was a great achievement. Indeed, De Cesaris very nearly finished 2nd at Spa until his engine blew in the dying laps. But Jordan’s early success nearly proved the team’s downfall, as Ford pulled their engines leaving them with the dreadful Yamaha units, and the team ran into serious financial problems it was lucky to recover from.

It’s also special because 7-Up haven’t been seen on an F1 car since, having only made a brief appearance previously on the back of the 1989 Benetton. That’s a real shame, because the logo and colours had so much potential. Since then, they’ve stuffed up the logo anyway, and soft drinks aren’t really into F1 any more. Energy drinks is where it’s at, apparently. Pfft.

1. Ferrari 412T2 (1995)

Quite simply, the most beautiful F1 car ever, bar none. Everything is right about it – the livery, the lines, the drivers, and the incredible V12 engine, one of the greatest F1 engines of recent times simply because of the sound.

I don’t need to say anything. Just look at those pictures, watch these videos and listen to that engine.

Written by James Bennett

September 16, 2012 at 02:23

Posted in F1

Mark Webber on the Olympics, bikes and Ali

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As a big Mark Webber fan, I thought I’d share this interview with you (which I didn’t do, obviously – but don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret)…

All information in this article was thanks to the Red Bull Racing Spy. To follow the performance of both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber for the rest of the Championship and keep up to date with all the gossip from inside the paddock, download the FREE app here or search for the Red Bull Racing Spy in the app store

1. You were at the Olympic Stadium on the night Mo Farah won the 5,000m. How did that atmosphere compare to what you experience on a Grand Prix weekend?

I think it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to see him win that. The atmosphere was incredible and it is something we do not experience as drivers. When we race we are in our own bubble. The crowd was deafening, I was pretty close to the track and could see his face, what was at stake for him, the years of effort that went into those last four laps. The race was awe-inspiring.

2. If you had to leave Red Bull tomorrow, but had the choice of a spare seat with any other team in the F1 paddock, which seat would you choose, and why?

It’s tricky. I know a lot of the guys at Enstone and Lotus is a team that is probably closest to Red Bull in terms not taking themselves too seriously but still have a very clear focus and goal of being competitive. I think the atmosphere would be good there. And, Ferrari, obviously, from a romantic perspective. All the drivers know that it is a special team. In the end, I am really happy at Red Bull. I wake up each morning knowing I have a sensational team of guys around me and I love driving here.

3. You’re famous for racing in four-wheeled motorsport, but are a fan of two-wheels, too. Tell us a bit about that.

Well, I started on motor bikes as a youngster; my dad had a motorbike shop for about 20 years. I suppose this is where my passion for motorbikes came from. I had several different bikes growing up and I watched asphalt racing and dirt racing. I used to watch Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz – I would never missed a race on TV. I also liked to watch a bit of motocross, now speedway and Isle of Man TT. I have done a few track days on motor bikes, I am absolutely no where near the level of performance of the pros, but I have a strong appreciation for what their talents are.

4. If you had to switch sports, what would you choose to compete in, and why?

That’s tough. I am not good enough at any other sports, so I don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing, but if could have the magic touch, it would be good to be faster than Usain Bolt.

5. Who are your top three all-time sporting heroes?

Bloody hell, that’s tough. Mohammed Ali. What Ali stood for, out of the ring more than even in the ring. He is still before his time; no one else is like Ali. Most sports men and woman around the world know he’s the guy. Closer to home it would have to be motorbike racer Mick Doohan. Mick raced with some horrendous injuries, he really pushed himself and the bar was just about him, he wasn’t racing anyone else, he was racing himself, which is why he probably kept getting injured. It was inspiring to watch him race. In Formula 1, I think Senna. Ayrton was genuinely human. He was humble, real and a brutal competitor. He had a privileged upbringing but he never forgot how fortunate he was. That was a great quality he had.

Written by James Bennett

September 5, 2012 at 21:25

Posted in Athletics, F1

An article I’ve been paid for

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For the first time, I’ve been paid for writing something for someone. Specifically, it’s this brief rant about F1 and its fans for The FCF. I would thus appreciate it if you give it a click or seven as they are good guys running a great website and have been kind enough to pay me for it. Hopefully I can do something else for them soon.

In the mean time, I should soon have an article up here on last Wednesday evening when I was breaking more ground for myself by commentating on a real football match for the first time at a real stadium (as opposed to just shouting at a computer screen while playing FIFA).

Written by James Bennett

March 19, 2012 at 17:54

Posted in F1, Other

Deconstructing F1

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There’s a reason why I’ve not done much writing about F1 lately. It’s been a gradual process, but I guess I’m just not interested any more.

I was dubious for a long time about how much of a role money has in F1, but I’m convinced now. F1 is money. There is no other reason for its existence – it exists for the sake of existing, in order to make money for the people at the top. It wouldn’t matter so much if it was genuinely entertaining, but it isn’t. The history is the only thing that keeps it ticking over – if F1 was starting from scratch in 2012, as it is now, it would be dead within a year or two, because no one would bother. The reason people watch F1 is for the possibility of something exciting happening, because something exciting happened in the past – take away those exciting things that happened in the past and people would have no reason to watch it.

I know I’ve complained about F1 being boring in the past, but that’s the point, isn’t it? People, including myself in the past, say stuff like “that was boring” or “that car’s ugly”, but they keep crawling back. The discourse of F1 being potentially exciting keeps them coming back. Take away that and what is F1? Compared to nearly all other leading sports, the vast majority of races are utterly mind-numbingly boring.

Talk to someone who isn’t really that interested in F1 and they will probably tell you it’s rubbish, and there’s a good reason for that. Every time someone said to me over the past couple of years “I don’t watch F1 because it’s boring” I gradually became more inclined to think “yeah, actually you’ve got a point”, because the races were boring. It isn’t interesting to simply watch an F1 race in the moment – the only way you can enjoy watching an F1 race is to watch it whilst considering the possibility of something happening. If you’re unaware of that, or discount it, it’s completely uninteresting, and that shouldn’t really be how sport works.

The problem is people (including me – anyone interested in F1) have been sucked in, convinced by the F1 propaganda machine that what you saw was good, even if it blatantly wasn’t, and that someday something better will happen, so you have to keep watching – you to watch in case it starts raining, in case someone crashes, in case someone’s engine blows on the last lap. Alongside that, they build these nice meta-narratives of good vs evil, hidden drama behind the scenes that you don’t know about, and tactics on the pit wall that you couldn’t possibly understand – knowledge is power, after all. It’s all fluff. Take it all away and there’s very little there. Look at it – what has made F1 “interesting” over the past few years has not been the races themselves. It has been the off-track controversy and the championship battles.

I wanted to be an F1 journalist, but then, while writing race reports for The Boar, I realised that by entering into the F1 media would mean I would be compelled to defend F1 from all criticism. I knew that I couldn’t possibly do that, because there are some things that I, as a liberal lefty with morals and principles, can’t defend. That itself is proof of a discourse at work – you have to think a certain way to get into the media. The media relies on F1 being good, and F1 relies on the media to make it look good.

To enter into that you have to think the same way as them, and you have to be willing to give over your conscience, your mouth even, to the F1 machine and be prepared to say what you think you should say, not necessarily what you actually believe – writing about F1 is inherently deceptive; you have to be a cheerleader. The F1 machine is perpetuated by fan interest and thus gives the fans what they want to hear and read. I’d never be able to get into the F1 media because I’m aware of the mechanics behind it and I’d want to dismantle it, and any attempt to dismantle it, i.e. point out that the whole thing is perpetuating itself in order to perpetuate itself, would lead to my rejection from the F1 circle.

Every time I make the point about F1 being flawed at an F1 forum, I’m criticised and told to be quiet – essentially, what I’m told is that because I’m criticising F1, I shouldn’t be allowed to take part in discussions about it. That’s just one part of the F1 machine – it works its way right to the top, no doubt. The whole of the F1 structure must be made up of loads of ‘yes men’ because otherwise it would collapse. It’s impossible to criticise it, from within (“you’re just a whinger, you’re never satisfied etc”) or from outside (“you don’t follow F1, you wouldn’t know”), because you’ll be marginalised.

And if only people who can think that F1 is good are contributing to how the sport works and is run, it’s doomed – it’s not going to improve because those running the show have already convinced themselves that it’s fine as it is anyway, or are at least forced to say that in public, although it’s clear to me that those within F1 (not just those running it but the fans too) come to believe the very myths they create and perpetuate – hence why people have remained tolerant of an increasingly poor standard of racing. F1 simply cannot be self-critical – it’s not in its interests.

Look at F1 from a Foucauldian/postmodernist perspective. Deconstruct it. It’ll open up in front of your very eyes.

Written by James Bennett

January 25, 2012 at 18:10

Posted in F1