Sunday, 20 September 2015

#F1: Swingapore

What a difference!  Ferrari and Red Bull the dominant teams, Mercedes fighting behind the top four, before eventually retiring one car after Championship leader Lewis Hamilton lost power to end up 40mph slower through the speed trap.  Singapore certainly provided a change from what's been the norm in Formula 1 this season.

Hamilton's lead in the Championship is still assured, and I can't see anyone else taking the title this year.  It was definitely interesting to watch a race playing out without Hamilton fifteen seconds ahead of everyone else, though.  Sebastian Vettel proved he hasn't lost his touch when it comes to controlling a race from the front, as he led from Pole position to take a third win this year in his Ferrari.  His teammate Kimi Räikkönen, on the other hand, finished third but seemed unable to match Vettel or Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo for pace.

Räikkönen seems to turn the car in differently from Vettel at the entry to the corners.  It's hard to see exactly what's going on there without access to more slow replays of the two of them (I might look some up later and do some more analysis when I can compare them more thoroughly), but Vettel is able to squeeze a bit of extra grip in the turn where Räikkönen can't.  Ferrari's upgrades this weekend have helped them a lot, though, and as I remarked on Twitter their capture of technical director James Allison from Lotus is looking ever more inspired – and ever more of a loss for the Enstone-based team.

Speaking of Lotus, it was another weekend to forget, really.  They were not quick at this circuit, but Romain Grosjean managed to deliver a surprised top 10 Qualifying position.  He had a possibility of picking up some points, as well, running in the lower end of the top 10 most of the evening – but I think the team got his strategy wrong.  They were the first to stop for tyres at each Pitstop window, and I think this ended up costing them as his tyres were older than everyone else's in the last few laps of the race, leaving him unable to defend his position from two hungry young Toro Rosso drivers on considerably fresher (and softer) tyres.

It was the Toro Rosso pairing of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. who stole the show, and had everyone talking during the post-race analysis.  However, I was less than impressed on a couple of occasions.

Let's go back to the battle with Grosjean, for a minute.  Max Verstappen passed Grosjean to take eighth place, and did an excellent job of it (although there were a nervous few moments where I half expected a repeat of Monaco, where Verstappen misjudged his braking and run straight into the back of the Lotus driver!), but when it was Sainz' turn to line up Grosjean for an overtake, I felt the Lotus man was rather hard-done-by.  Sainz' overtaking move was brave, and well-executed – but the TV replays showed clearly that he had all four wheels off the circuit as he did it.  He should've had to give the place back.

What irked me even more was that Martin Brundle's commentary for Sky F1 seemed to say that this did not matter.  He claimed that it was a good move, and it would be wrong to penalise drivers for trying to make overtakes.  It's not wrong to penalise drivers for breaking the rules, though, and Sainz clearly did.  I wrote just last week about how important it is for rules to be applied fairly and consistentlyespecially the 'track limits' rule – and here is a commentator and big motor racing personality advocating that we waive punishment for a clear infringement of the rules just because it looked cool.  That is utter nonsense, and makes a mockery of the sport.

As I remarked on Twitter, this is akin to a footballer hitting a fantastic strike from thirty yards out, only to see his shot rebound off the goalpost – only for the referee to say he is awarding a goal anyway, because it was such a good strike.  Yes, Sainz was driving extremely well – but rules are rules, and no matter how nice a piece of driving his overtake on Grosjean was, it was an illegal move as defined by the 'track limits' rule, and that rule should've been upheld accordingly.  (Ironically, Grosjean himself was involved in something similar in Hungary a few years back, when he passed Felipe Massa with a brilliant piece of skill – and was then told he had to relinquish the position because he had gone fractionally outside the limits of the circuit in making his move stick.  As I have said time and again, inconsistent applications of rules ruins racing, and this was another case in point.)

Sainz' teammate Max Verstappen may have made a legal overtake on Grosjean, but his conduct towards his team was less than exemplary.  In the final laps, running eighth with Sainz behind him in ninth, Verstappen looked less and less likely to find a way past Sergio Peréz in front, and his team instructed him to switch with Sainz so the other driver could have a go at getting past the Force India and claiming seventh place for the team.  Verstappen refused.  In this instance, his team boss Franz Tost later said that Verstappen was right to ignore the orders, but I wonder what kind of precedent this sets within that team.

Verstappen's engineer asked him twice to swap places with Sainz.  When Verstappen remonstrated after the first request, the response from the pit wall was a curt "Max, just do it."  How did Verstappen know that this order wasn't for a more serious reason?  Contrast his petulance with Hamilton's professionalism in Monza; a few laps before the end of the race, when he seemed to be cruising to certain victory, Hamilton's race engineer instructed him to pick up the pace and pull out a further gap to Vettel in second place behind him.  "Don't ask questions, just do it – we'll explain all later" said Hamilton's engineer.  The Championship leader complied, without hesitation.  He could obviously tell that the team knew something he didn't (we later found out they had been made aware of an issue, and were anticipating a potential time Penalty which could have taken the win away from Hamilton unless he finished more than twenty seconds ahead of Vettel), and that the situation was urgent.  He responded in a calm, professional manner, doing what was asked of him and securing maximum points for himself and the team.

Verstappen, on the other hand, was supremely lucky.  As it turned out, nothing bad happened as a result of his insubordination (not in terms of the race result, anyway), but how was he to know at the time that there wasn't something more serious behind that request?  The endorsement of his actions by Franz Tost as well makes the situation worse, in my mind.  It has set a precedent at Toro Rosso for ignoring the team, if you think you know best, and just ploughing your own furrow.  Don't expect Sainz to do his team any favours in future Grand Prix after that.  Might that end up hurting their points tally, come the end of the season?  I wouldn't rule it out.

Ultimately, one of biggest deciding factors for those mid-to-lower grid teams was the timing of the Safety Car.  In my view, the Safety Car spent too much time on-track in Singapore today; we could quite easily have had a couple of laps fewer behind the Safety Car on both of the occasions it was called into action.  In the first incident (when Massa and Hulkenberg hit each other), the initial response from Race Control was a Virtual Safety Car.

Now, I like the idea of the Virtual Safety Car.  I see what they are trying to do here, and I think it is laudable.  You control the pace of the cars and allow marshals time to clear the track without bunching up the field too much and having all that nonsense of backmarkers unlapping themselves taking up time.  But it is fairly clear quite early on whether an incident is serious enough to warrant the use of the real Safety Car – especially on a street circuit – and if it is we need to see the Safety Car come out much sooner.  In this instance, we wasted several laps under Virtual Safety Car conditions before Race Control realised the shunt had been bigger than that and plumped for the real Safety Car anyway.

In the second Safety Car period, it was brought out straight away, in response to a bizarre situation of a member of the public casually sauntering along the track.  That was totally fair enough, of course – but long after he'd disappeared off the scene, we were still trundling around behind the Safety Car, as backmarkers unlapped themselves (or, in the case of Manor F1 debutant Alex Rossi, didn't quite), and the pack shuffled itself into order.

This ended up being the root cause of much of the late drama in the race (including the Toro Rosso brouhaha I have mentioned above, as well as a collision between Pastor Maldonado and Jenson Button), as the cars bunched up behind the Safety Car and were held up from restarting the race.  My opinion is the racing could've resumed a couple of laps sooner (at least), and the luck of simply being in the right place at the right time when the Safety Car is deployed (always a factor to some extent, of course, due to the nature of racing) would've had a less significant influence on the outcome of the race than it ended up having.

Next week, in Japan, it will be very interesting to see whether Mercedes return to their usual dominance of proceedings, or whether Ferrari's new upgrades will continue to shine.  My feeling is Mercedes will be back on top, but Ferrari will be closer to them in the past; Red Bull will fade away after being very competitive in Singapore (which is one of their favourite tracks); and we will see yet more inconsistent rules and Penalties unfairly influencing the racing action.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour pains

The leader of the Labour party is now a man who describes terrorists and religious fundamentalists as "friends", who wants to "compromise" with murderous fanatics, who shares a platform with antisemites and donates to their causes, who speculates on wild conspiracy theories, and whose new Shadow Chancellor wants to "honour" IRA bombers.  His supporters can shout as much as they like that these are "smears" – but it's hard to see things that way, when these are things the man himself has actually said or done.  Quoting somebody's own words is not "smearing" them, and these issues will not go away.  In spite of all of this, Labour party members and supporters voted for Jeremy Corbyn in droves.

But twenty-four hours into his tenure as Labour leader, it was quickly becoming clear that Corbyn's bungled Shadow Cabinet reshuffle; his absurd decision to "crowd-source" his lines for Prime Minister's Questions (as if Labour still haven't learnt that opening things up to the general public – especially on the internet – is just asking for the system to be abused); his description of journalists' questions as "people bothering him" (as if he expects just to be able to do whatever he likes without any scrutiny, like he did when he was a backbencher – it is the job of the press to hold politicians to account, not simper and genuflect to them as in places like North Korea); and so on were only the tip of the iceberg.  Jeremy Corbyn's position as Labour leader is surely completely untenable.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if senior figures within the party were already planning how to depose him.

His fans will shout and scream that he was "democratically elected" as leader, and that he "has a mandate" which needs to be respected.  They will call for "unity", and expect other Labour MPs to be "loyal" to their leader.  But this is all nonsense…

Jeremy Corbyn doesn't give a fig for democracy.  Not if it doesn't fit his predetermined agenda, anyway…  Corbynites on Twitter are incensed at the idea of Labour MPs not supporting their leader, and rebelling against his "principled" stance on a variety of issues – but this is exactly what Corbyn has been doing for over thirty years, during which time he has rebelled against his party's whip more than five hundred times.  It seemingly hasn't occurred to people that disagreeing with Corbyn can also be a "principled" position, and that Labour MPs not toeing the Corbyn line might not be rebelling just to cause trouble, but out of the same high-mindedness which led Corbyn himself to rebel against myriad former Labour leaders.  As Helen Lewis pointed out in the New Statesman back in July, Jeremy Corbyn does not have a monopoly on principled belief.

"But Corbyn was democratically elected!" they bleat.  Moderate Labour MPs have to respect that!  Since when has Corbyn respected the sovereign wishes of an electorate?  He certainly doesn't respect the views of the people of the Falklands Islands, who voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of United Kingdom in a 2013 referendum.  He doesn't respect the views of the people of Northern Ireland when he hobnobs with the IRA.

No, Jeremy Corbyn is only interested in democracy or party unity when it suits him.  I don't see how he can reasonably expect other Labour MPs to show any more loyalty than he would've shown if any of the other candidates had won the leadership contest – or expect people to respect the democratic wishes of his voters any more than he respects the democratic wishes of the voters in the Falklands, or in Northern Ireland.  He certainly can't expect to carry on doing whatever he pleases free from media scrutiny and without consequence.

And as a result, his time in charge of the Labour party will be characterised by dissent, attrition and rebellion – all of which fractious in-fighting will cause splits in the party, and distract Labour from being an effective opposition to the Conservative government.  So much for the wisdom of people who naïvely greeted Corbyn's election as leader with: "At least we'll have an opposition who actually 'oppose' now!" (or similar).  Well, at least Corbyn and his cronies know they can always blame someone else for their failure to hold the government to account.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

My guide to making #F1 great again

I love Formula 1.  I still watch every race (live, whenever I can – or recorded and following a painstaking effort not to find out anything about what happens beforehand if necessary) and I will continue to do so.  But I can't deny that, in some ways, it's not as thrilling as it used to be.

I am not going to go into a discussion here of which era of F1 was 'the best'; I have already written about how fruitless it is to compare actual statistics across different eras of the sport, so attempting to come to an objective conclusion as to when the sport was 'best' would result in little more than many hours of wasted prattle.

But so that we are clear, for me the 'best' time for F1 was in the late '90s and early-to-mid '00s.  "But Schumacher dominance!  But boring!  But wahh, wahh, wahh…!"  Nonsense.  Shut up.  In the decade between (roughly) 1997 and 2007, we were privileged enough to see Formula 1's greatest ever driver at the very peak of his considerable powers, schooling a field of drivers which included most of those whom we now consider to be the most talented on the grid – as well as being treated to races which were exciting (but organically exciting, rather than scripted by Bernie and cajoled into being 'exciting' like an episode of a soap opera) and cars which were actually fast.

So I am going to set out a few points here which I think would elevate Formula 1 back to that level of excitement and intrigue.
1)  Faster cars
Former Red Bull driver Mark Webber said in a recent interview that F1 cars should be on 'a different level' from other categories.  Pointing out that GP2 cars (the category below F1), and sportscar racing both tend to have very similar lap times as current F1 cars – and that all the F1 lap records were set five to ten years ago, with the current formula 'miles away' from those sorts of speeds – Webber, described the situation as 'not right'.

I agree.  The modern F1 cars are simply not quick enough and not challenging enough for the drivers.  When I say 'faster' cars, I mean genuinely quicker in terms of raw pace.  More 'overtaking aids' or other fanciful gimmicks simply won't cut it.

The creeping advance of car design gimmicks over actual horsepower has made cars less challenging for drivers, and races less interesting to watch; ten years ago, genuine defensive driving skill meant that good drivers could keep a much quicker car behind them for a significant number of laps – and this in turn meant that strategy was even more important.  Planning pit stops, for example: get it wrong, and your man will be stuck losing time behind a slower car for goodness knows how long!  In modern F1, it doesn't matter, because with DRS he will simply breeze past competitors within a couple of laps and be on his way.

DRS allows cars to be 'shuffled' into a predictable order quickly, even after incidents or pit stops.  Maybe the actual number of overtakes performed on track has increased as a result of the introduction of DRS, but the quality of the overtaking has almost certainly decreased, as drivers no longer have to rely simply on their own racecraft to make a move on a rival stick.  Removing artificial gizmos like DRS will mean drivers and teams pay more dearly for mistakes, and skilful driving carries a greater reward.
2)  Tyres that work
Let's stop hiding behind the euphemism that the current specification of Pirelli tyres are 'deliberately high-degradation' or something.  Let's call them what they are: rubbish.  Deliberately so, yes – but they are still rubbish.
"Hey, let's make the cars have engines which are designed to blow up half-way through a race!" 
"I know!  How about a front wing assembly which may or may not fall off the car at any time, and the driver never knows if his wing will remain intact for the full length of the Grand Prix or not?"
Ideas like these would be laughed out of court.  (Or so I sincerely hope, at any rate!)  So why do we put up with this sort of idiocy when it comes to tyres?  Formula 1 is supposed to represent the very pinnacle of driver and engineers skill, but also the pinnacle of technological advancement; having any part of the car which is actually designed to fail is pretty stupid.

The rubbish tyres were brought in as part of an attempt to 'make the racing more exciting'; they have done anything but.  Racing is now dominated by tyres.  Discussions about tyres, inquiries about tyres, analysis of tyres.  Tyres, tyres, tyres.

Drivers no longer push their cars or themselves to the limit, or race as hard as they know they could or as hard as they would like to.  They are terrified of the rubbish tyres, and the majority of racing strategy is now concerned with managing tyres, conserving tyres, etc.

Does it seem like I'm saying 'tyres' a lot?  Yeah, well that's what every Grand Prix weekend is like, now.  And it gets pretty 'tyring', doesn't it?  (See what I did there…?!)

Once again, this wasn't an issue ten years ago.  Back then, we had a 'tyre war' – more than one tyre manufacturer supplying teams, and teams could choose who to go with, which promoted better tyres as the tyre companies competed for the teams' business.  Maybe this is nostalgia talking, but I would love to see that return.

Which teams would actually choose to run the current models of Pirelli tyres over, say, a more durable Michelin alternative?  Pirelli would have to raise their game, and provide better tyres if they didn't want to be shoved out of the sport completely – and then maybe we would have racing which wasn't so focussed on tyre management and gingerly eking out the life of one set of Pirellis for as long as possible…
3)  A complete overhaul of penalties, and their application
This season, penalties (and particularly grid penalties) have become ridiculous.  Once again, misguided attempts to 'make' F1 'more exciting' have ended up harming the quality of the racing, and shifting the focus of a race weekend away from wheel-to-wheel action and more towards petty technicalities and minutiae.

I am certain that stringent overregulation is hurting Formula 1.  Restrictions on testing and engine development, and ridiculously harsh punishments for changing engines or gearboxes, only exacerbates the difference in quality between the cars at the front of the field and those lower down the order.  Uncompetitive teams are forced to remain uncompetitive because they can't develop their engine package, and are punished for fixing issues on their cars, pushing them even further behind and making racing less close and less interesting.

At the Belgian Grand Prix a few weeks ago, McLaren were given grid penalties totalling 105 places.  This exorbitantly pernicious move meant that an already struggling team had to write off their race before it had even begun.  I'm sure there were people in the McLaren garage thinking they may as well not have bothered to turn up in Belgium at all.

Of course the rules are the rules, and need to be applied fairly and consistently to all.  We can't expect the FIA to make exceptions for a team because we feel sorry for them.  But this rule, and the associated punishments, are clearly counterproductive – this is making racing less competitive, less exciting, and instead encumbering the sport with restrictive overregulation.

And speaking of applying the rules fairly, can we get a definite clarification about the 'track limits' rules, please?  The rule is concerned with 'gaining an advantage' by going outside the limits of the race track (as defined by the white lines at the side of the circuit – not the run-off areas), but it is unclear exactly how that is interpreted by the FIA, or by the stewards.  The only time this rule is really applied is when one driver overtakes another by going outside the track limits – he then has to give that place back, as he deemed to have driven unfairly (which is absolutely correct).

But overtaking is not the only way a driver can 'gain an advantage'.  If a driver is consistently going outside the track limits in order to prevent another car from overtaking him, that is every bit as unfair as overtaking the car ahead by driving off the circuit – and yet we see far fewer punishments for this infringement.

Even if there are no other cars around, a driver can still 'gain an advantage' on lap time, which will then affect strategy in terms of pitstops and tyre life; consistently running wide (cutting a corner) over several laps might gain a driver a second or two in time (as well as meaning he has to use his brakes slightly less, therefore putting less wear through the tyres and preserving their usable life for a lap or two longer) – and that could be the difference between emerging from a pitstop just ahead of a rival driver, or just behind him.  If we are going to punish drivers for using more track than they are allowed to, then we should do so consistently and fairly – not just when overtaking is involved.

One other point about penalties I would like to make is that the current trend of using time penalties after the race has finished seems to me to go against the ethos of F1.  Formula 1 has never been time trial racing – it is about drivers fighting with each other on the track.  In theory, you might think there is not a lot of difference between having twenty seconds added onto your overall time after the race has finished, or having to drive through the Pitlane during the race (which will cost you roughly twenty seconds of laptime), but this is a mistaken way of thinking which ignores the fact that drivers are not just racing against themselves or against the clock, but against each other.

If you are twenty seconds ahead of your nearest rival, and you get a twenty second time penalty, you only have to push a little harder in the closing laps of the race to ensure that even after your overall race time is adjusted to reflect the penalty you are still ahead of your rival by half a second or so.  If you have to take your punishment on track, before the race has finished, it thrusts you into a battle for places which was previously twenty seconds behind you – it forces you to race your rival, your the clock.  There is a fundamental difference between time penalties and penalties taken during the race, and Formula 1 needs to revert to the latter.
4)  A 'hands-off' approach from the bosses
Following the three steps laid out above will make Formula 1 a much closer, more exciting, more challenging sport, and will bring racing back much more in line with how it seemed in the halcyon days of my youth.  But none of it will matter if the current attitudes of those in charge of the sport remain unchanged.

In general, I feel like those at the top – Bernie Ecclestone in particular, and the FIA – are far too meddlesome and interfering in their approach to running F1.  Constantly tweaking and tinkering with the formula, always trying to foist some new unwieldy gimmick on the teams designed to 'make' racing 'more exciting' – this intrusive officiousness is strangling the sport we love.

I have written at length before that I would genuinely rather races were 'boring' than that they were 'made' exciting artificially, and I stand by those views now.  I think some of my previous writing on the topic bears repeating, in this context…

If a driver, or a team, is dominating proceedings, then well done to them.  This isn't a 'problem', nothing has to be 'done about it', it is an example of somebody performing well – which is what sport is all about.  Attempting to peg back the best performers in the field is the same as rigging the results; it is false – not a true reflection of the relative qualities of different drivers and cars, but a record which has been tampered with to be 'entertaining'.

Until the people in charge of Formula 1 learn that the most important thing is sporting integrity and accuracy – not 'excitement' or 'entertainment' – then we are always going to be faced with racing which is tainted by artificial rubbish.  Bernie et al simply need to 'let them race'.  Stop interfering, stop meddling, stop trying to force every Grand Prix to be 'a classic' full of 'drama' and 'excitement'.  Just let them be what they are.

It is too late for the 2016 season.  That will be another year of gimmicks, overbearing regulations, and harsh but inconsistently applied punishment.  But team bosses will be meeting soon to discuss changes to the sport for 2017 and beyond – I hope they talk sense.

Monday, 7 September 2015

#F1: Pressure's on in Monza

A few significant talking points dominated the Italian Grand Prix at Monza yesterday.  The first, and most obvious in terms of the World Championship, was how unassailable Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes look.  With Hamilton stretching the gap over his teammate to an enormous 53 points, I think there's no way anybody will catch him for the title now.  As for Rosberg, he looks a shadow of his 2014 self as the effects of being schooled by Hamilton every weekend begin to take their toll, and I am starting to doubt whether he will ever win a World Championship.

But Hamilton was also at the centre of one of the more contentious issues from yesterday's race.  Shortly before the end, Hamilton's race engineer instructed him to put in some flying laps – an odd decision, considering that he was cruising to almost-certain victory with a gap to Sebastian Vettel in second place of over twenty seconds.

Why the sudden need to hurry?  Speculation was rife that Mercedes were worried about an issue, and that they needed enough time between their man and Vettel's Ferrari to be able to squeeze in an extra pitstop if necessary – but if Hamilton's tyres were going off, he would've felt that in the car and said something to his team before they had picked it up, and if it were an engine issue the sensible precaution would be to slow down and nurse the car to the end (there were fewer than five laps to go, at this point), rather than push the machinery even harder.

All soon became clear, however, as it was revealed that Mercedes were under investigation for having left rear tyres (on both their cars) which were suspected of being below the minimum tyre pressure, as set by F1's tyre manufacturer Pirelli.  A lower tyre pressure is supposed to give the cars more performance, but Pirelli had raised their stipulated minimum pressures considerably from the previous race in Belgium, following criticism from teams and drivers regarding tyre failures at Spa Francorchamps.

As Hamilton celebrated victory on the Monza podium, in front of the usual crowd of passionate Italian racing fans, we waited to see if he would be disqualified for being 0.3 PSI below the required pressure in one tyre.

In the end, the enquiry exonerated Mercedes, and Hamilton's win was allowed to stand.  To me, though, it looks awfully like getting off on a mere technicality.  As I understood the rule, what mattered was the outcome of whether the tyre pressures were legal or not, not the procedures the team followed – and yet Mercedes were let off because they had done the right things, even though it had still produced an illegal result in one of Hamilton's tyres.  Their defence, essentially, seems to have been "well, we didn't mean to!"  That might count for something, of course – but ultimately, breaking the rules is breaking the rules, regardless.

Regardless also of the fact that Hamilton didn't actually gain an advantage from the infringement.  This was another common defence from fans on Twitter, and a point raised in Hamilton's interview immediately after the race on Sky Sports; once again, however, breaking a rule should carry a punishment, whether you actually benefit from breaking it or not.  If not, why bother to have the rules at all?

I think, though, the main culprit in all of this is Pirelli themselves.  Their tyres are simply not good enough.  I have said this before, and it remains my position that the sooner this disastrous 'high-degradataion' tyre experiment is ended, the better it will be for Formula 1.  The only reason we were in the situation at all was because tyres had failed at the previous Grand Prix in Spa, and so Pirelli had to take emergency action to make sure their shonky product didn't end up hurting anybody.  I don't see that as a tenable situation for F1, which is supposed to be a byword for the very best in the world – the best drivers, engineers, machinery, technology, and yes, tyres.

There is no excuse for teams or drivers not following the rules – and if they don't, they should be punished accordingly.  But when those rules have been hastily cobbled together to spare the blushes of a tyre manufacture whose product ca be trusted to operate properly within the existing regulations, that hardly seems fair either.  A serious overhaul of tyres in F1 is needed.

The other main thing which seemed to be on everyone's minds throughout the Grand Prix weekend was: would F1 be coming back to Monza next year?

Sebastian Vettel's thoughts on this were pretty clear…

I agree with him completely.  This is a classic race; it is steeped in motorsport history.  If Monza is allowed to go the way of Magny Cours, Imola, Hockenheim, and other classic circuits with more racing heritage than a hundred soulless specially-built compounds in the middle of the desert could ever hope to have, it truly will spell the end for Formula 1.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Norwich's transfer nightmare

Tuesday's transfer deadline was pretty bruising experience for Norwich City fans.  While fans of other clubs were left celebrating last minute captures of exciting players, Norwich fans shook their heads sadly and wondered what on earth was going on…

Norwich's transfer business began quite brightly, following promotion to the Premier League via the Play-Off Final at Wembley; the permanent signing of Graham Dorrans (who had been on loan at Carrow Road last season) and the arrivals of Youssouf Mulumbu and Robbie Brady in midfield all showed promise and intent from the club.

But things have since turned very sour indeed.  Having been out a lot of Tuesday, I caught up on how all the Deadline Day news unfolded after the window had closed, and could barely believe what I was seeing.

I have long contended that Norwich have a strong core squad full of decent, hard working players – but that to be competitive in the Premier League the season, we needed to sign one proven striker, and one centre-back to partner Sebastien Bassong.  Dieumerci Mbokani has come in on loan from Dynamo Kiev, and Matt Jarvis has also been brought in (also on loan) from West Ham – but no defenders have arrived, which I feel leaves us shaky and vulnerable at the back, especially against the really top teams of this division.

Add to that the fact that we have let several players leave the club – including Bradley Johnson, who was undoubtedly one of our best players last season, as well as two other central midfielders who could've covered Johnson's position in the wake of his departure to Derby County – I can't see that we're much better off that we were before.

To see a club like Aston Villa sign a proven Premier League quality defender in Joleon Lescott for only £2m, while Charlie Austin – a striker with a fantastic Premier League record from last season – is passed over by every current top flight club, is painful.  Both of those players would've made excellent additions to the Norwich City squad (more so than endless midfielders!), and I'm left wondering why we couldn't make signings of that quality happen while Villa, Stoke City, West Ham and others spend money and add quality to their ranks to ensure they remain established in the Premier League.

This isn't the end of the world, of course – we still have players capable of doing a good job and winning games in the Premier League – but I feel we have left ourselves a much more difficult task than we needed to.  It's poor business from the club, indicative of a lack of ambition, and left me with a sinking feeling after reading through the transfer news after the window had closed.  I don't want to see us in a position where we have to pay well over the odds for mediocre players in the January transfer window, in the hope of salvaging an already floundering season.

The Syrian refugee crisis is not about you

Isn't it remarkable how practically every large-scale global event always proves just how right you were all along?

People on the internet seem determined to use the Syrian refugee crisis as a means to shore up their own prejudices – whatever they may be.

Conservative supporters on Twitter were busily Tweeting last night that the crisis is all Ed Miliband's fault, for blocking military action against the Assad regime in Syria during 2013 (because bombing a country is a surefire way to ensure nobody wants to leave it and seek asylum elsewhere).

Labour and the Green Party are keen to lay the blame at the door of David Cameron and the 'heartless' Tories (although when Conservatives have shown compassion on this issue, they've just got abuse from the left all the same).

And of course the Scottish Nationalists are quick to point out that if 'Yes' had won the referendum, and Scotland were an independent country, this problem would simply evaporate (just as all other problems would evaporate if Scotland were an independent land of milk and honey).

Is there nothing we won't politicise?  Is there nothing we won't use to bash our ideological nemeses over the head?  People are dying, and they need our help.

Perhaps if we stopped sniping at each other with vituperations of moralising piety, using strangers' tragic deaths to score cheap points off our political opponents, falling back on the same tired, predictable 'bogey-men' we blame for everything, we might be able to do something to ease the suffering.

Or do we, as a nation, honestly care more about assigning blame than saving those in need?