I’m Watching… (14/15 April 2018)

These are some of the things I’ve been watching.

Two busy weekends in a row! Apologies for 1700 words, this was a big week.

Formula E:  Rome ePrix

I was excited for this one though it started a slow burner. Drivers doing energy saving to get to the pit stop – it happens a lot in FE. I relate to why people switch off early thinking the series is boring, but they don’t understand it all kicks off in the second half! There was contact on the opening lap, Alex Lynn getting hit, resulting in a meatball flag.

Just as pit stops began there was a 4-car crash at the hairpin. All eventually got going. Nobody in danger, Race Control sensibly held any intervention until after the pit stops. Lynn came to a stop this time though – an awful weekend of barrier contact for him – so a full course yellow (virtual safety car) was thrown almost as soon as the last car got out of the pits.

What followed was fantastic! Race-long leader Felix Rosenqvist hit a kerb which broke his suspension, out on the spot, promoting Sam Bird to the lead. The four-way battle for the lead was great, Bird held off the battling trio Mitch Evans, Lucas di Grassi and Andre Lotterer who were passing and re-passing each other. Di Grassi got himself to 2nd. Sadly on the last lap Evans ran low on energy and slowed to finish 9th. Points leader Jean-Eric Vergne wound up 5th. And a lot more changed lower down the field!

TV direction was a bit messy, we missed many overtakes live and only caught some in replay. An area to improve. The decision by Channel 5 to bump the race to 5Spike was a disappointment – at least there was the option to watch in HD on Eurosport.

Result
1st Sam Bird (DS Virgin) 25 points;
2nd Lucas di Grassi (Audi ABT) 18 pts;
3rd Andre Lotterer (Techeetah – Renault) 15 pts;
4th Daniel Abt (Audi ABT) 12 pts;
5th Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah – Renault) 10 pts;

Points
119  Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah – Renault);
101  Sam Bird (DS Virgin);
82  Felix Rosenqvist (Mahindra);
60  Sebastien Buemi (Renault e.dams);
50  Daniel Abt (Audi Sport ABT);

152  Techeetah;
118  DS Virgin;
103  Mahindra;
89  Audi Sport ABT;
88  Jaguar;

Next round:  Paris, April 28th.

Formula 1:  Chinese GP

Just like in Rome the first half of the F1 race in Shanghai was pretty uneventful after the first lap, where Max Verstappen got a better start on softer tyres to jump from 5th to 3rd, while Valterri Bottas also cleared Kimi Raikkonen. The order for some while was an equidistant Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Ricciardo.

There was more action at the back as Lance Stroll picked up 6 places and Sergio Perez dropped 6 places as the field negotiated the tightening opening corners.

Red Bull played an aggressive strategy, starting on softer tyres relative the others, even pitting both cars on the same lap with quick double-stacked stops executed perfectly. With Mercedes and Ferrari on the same tyres as each other, Bottas pitted earlier to get grip sooner, Vettel shadowing a little later. It worked for Bottas who jumped Vettel into the virtual lead.

Raikkonen was left out there long time, a sitting duck on long-worn tyres while the others caught him. The only option was that he was one-stopping to the others’ two, but they left it so late Bottas and Vettel passed him. With all needing one more stop it negated any advantage. I really dislike Ferrari screwing up their chances like this.

At halfway I noticed no cars had been lapped, the back of the field more competitive now. The media make a big deal of Williams and Sauber being terrible but really they are not that far off the midfield.

It all kicked off when Safety Car came out. Gasly ran into Hartley thinking he was being allowed through for the second time in the race (he wasn’t). Debris everywhere. Gasly later got a penalty.

It appeared the two lead cars weren’t given the chance to pit first, the SC popping out while they were somewhere near pit entry, no time to make the call. Verstappen dove in immediately, the following Hamilton did not and complained about it after the race, Ricciardo followed his team-mate for a second set of double-stacked stops from Red Bull.

Vettel, Bottas and Hamilton had to convert to a one-stop, Raikkonen too had made his stop by then but at least he had newer rubber than these three. The Red Bull stops were done before the field packed up behind the SC so they barely lost any places, they were sitting pretty.

And so the rest of the race was question of how soon could the Red Bulls pass the Ferraris and Mercedes. Verstappen was too impatient – again – and wound up in a tarmac runoff area after trying to pass Hamilton, letting Lewis and Ricciardo through. It happened again when Max caught Vettel later, contact at the hairpin spinning Vettel and attracting a post-race penalty for Verstappen. A victory lost in the first case, a podium lost in the second. Silly. As for Seb, he struggled with damage after that, got passed by Hulkenberg and Alonso and settled for 8th. Kimi caught Bottas near the end but no pass.

Daniel Ricciardo in contrast to his team-mate took his time and made decisive moves, to take the lead with plenty of time to spare.

Result
1st  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull – Renault) 25 points;
2nd  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes) 18 pts;
3rd  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 15 pts;
4th  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 12 pts;
5th  Max Verstappen (Red Bull – Renault) 10pts;

Driver points after 3 races:
54  Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari);
45  Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes);
40  Valterri Bottas (Mercedes);
37  Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull);
30  Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari);

Constructor points after 3 races:
85  Mercedes;
84  Ferrari;
55  Red Bull;
28  McLaren;
25  Renault;

Next round:  Baku, April 29th.

IMSA Weathertech:  Long Beach GP

Juan Montoya started on pole, managed a first-lap Safety Car period, after which he got caught and passed by former Sauber man Felipe Nasr in the Whelen Cadillac. Another Safety Car came at pit time, this pairing staying out while everyone else pitted. The only other man to stay out was Alexander Sims in the GTLM BMW which had already pitted under green. IMSA rules these days have the classes sorted together for restarts, so Sims dropped back and restarted in front of the rest of GTLM.

It was at this point I had to stop watching. This was about 40 – 50 minutes into the 100 minute race. The official http://www.imsa.tv stream buffered so frequently it was not watchable. You could only see 10 seconds for every minute or two of real time. Add in annoyances with the audio – loud music every 5 minutes got old very quickly – and I wasn’t inclined to stick with it. I could’ve switched to the radio and live timing, but was too annoyed by that point. I’ll wait for the YouTube upload.

[Results to follow next time, after I finish watching the race.]

Next round:  Mid-Ohio, May 6th.

IndyCar:  Long Beach GP

Alexander Rossi started on pole and was dominant all day long. Yet again this weekend the first half was pretty uneventful following a dramatic first lap.

This time it was Graham Rahal torpedoing Simon Pagenaud out of the race. He blamed the brakes locking “like they did before”. Perhaps it would be harsh of me to suggest that if they did it before he should make allowances… He got a drive-through which would be negated by Safety Car later on.

The choice was 2 stops or 3 and a surprising number went for the latter and did so early. Robert Wickens car stalled at his stop, did a slow lap and pitted again with some sort of software problem, the team unable to get it going again for about 6 laps.

After the first stops Rossi had a big lead. Scott Dixon took Will Power while in traffic.

TV missed a lot of passes that I saw happen on live timing. Unusual for an NBC Sports race.

BOURDAIS. All of a sudden out of nowhere through lapped traffic, Bourdais makes it 3 wide to pass Dixon and then dives another car – and doesn’t hit the wall! Incredible move!

He was judged that two wheels over the blue pit exit line was a foul. I disagree with the rule, but that’s the rule and he had to give Dixon the place back. At least it wasn’t a drive-through. Bourdais got mad and immediately re-passed Dixon.

Unfortunately his day got ruined by his team-mate Zachary Clamen de Melo hitting the wall. Not ZCdM’s fault. Bourdais and Dixon were in the pits when the Safety Car came out, Seb got waved through so he lost time but didn’t get a penalty, Dixon took service and was penalised. Bourdais came in again when the pits opened.

That put Bourdais in the pack, where he got speared by Jordan King making a GP2 move in a place nobody usually passes.

I totally lost track of strategy and somehow the back end of the field got shuffled up behind Rossi, so we had Veach, Rahal, Andretti and others in the top ten. They held their own though at the end and were just as fast as anyone else, so I guess they made the Safety Cars work for them.

Rossi was dominant all day and it would’ve been criminal had he lost this one. Power took 2nd, Jones and Veach were nice and clean, Rahal got 5th despite taking out a competitor.

Result
1st  Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport / Honda) 54 points;
2nd  Will Power (Team Penske / Chevrolet) 41 pts;
3rd  Ed Jones (Chip Ganassi / Honda) 35 pts;
4th  Zach Veach (Andretti Autosport / Honda) 32 pts;
5th  Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman / Honda) 30 pts;

Points
126  Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport / Honda);
104  Josef Newgarden (Team Penske / Chevrolet);
93  Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman / Honda);
88  Sebastian Bourdais (Dale Coyne / Honda);
83  James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson / Honda);

Next round:  Barber Motorsports Park, April 22nd.

Other

A huge amount of racing happened elsewhere, particularly in sports cars. I do watch ELMS and LM Cup on delay so I hope to catch up with those before it is time for Le Mans.

Coming Up

Next week see even more IndyCar, a natural road course this time, plus MotoGP goes to COTA. I’ll have a preview blog by Thursday night.

I prefer it when we have a small handful of races to focus on rather than everything at once!

I’m Watching… (7/8 April 2018)

These are some of the things I’ve been watching.

This was the first big multi-event weekend of the 2018 season. I enjoyed a chilled out Sunday, first with IndyCar on the DVR from overnight then two live races back to back.

If there was a theme for the weekend it was tyre strategy. It created some much-needed uncertainty in all three of the major series I watched!

Continue reading “I’m Watching… (7/8 April 2018)”

The 2013 Season Is Upon Us

The long off-season is ending! It has crept up on me quite quietly and the four or five posts I’d intended to write since New Year never came to be written, so I’ll condense a few thoughts here.

We’ve already seen several races this year, some of them were prestigious and some of them were very good, but really this weekend has to be considered the true start of the motorsport season, for two reasons:  Firstly, it is the first weekend of the year with two properly major events (the Australian F1 GP and the 12 Hours of Sebring), secondly, from this weekend there isn’t really an off week from major racing until the end of November! The season starts properly this very weekend.

I didn’t get anything like as much done this off-season as I’d planned. Partly I have been enjoying the freedom to do as I like after work, partly I haven’t had the energy because I find a cold winter to be mentally draining, and partly I’ve felt I had a lot of time so kept pushing things back. As a result there are fewer blog posts written, fewer DVR or backlog races watched, and a whole side-project was left alone. Admittedly an old and dying computer slowed me down, which finally died recently – now I have a new PC for a new season and I can get cracking!

What have I been watching this off-season?

Continue reading “The 2013 Season Is Upon Us”

I’m Watching.. Race of Champions

This weekend I watched the online feed of the Race of Champions. On the whole I enjoyed it, unfortunately there were a great many problems with it this year – and they are fairly similar to problems with past events.

My RoC History

I’ve been disappointed by the Race of Champions in the past. I went to Wembley in 2007 to sit in expensive seats (they were very much over-priced, in hindsight) watching slow cars on a twisty track. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really good event and we had a superb view, it was just that the track was just too tight and too cold so the cars didn’t have any speed at all, so the costs didn’t justify it at all. I heard they became more realistic for 2008.

For the 2010 event I was really pleased to see they had been able to use the different dimensions of the ESPRIT Arena in Düsseldorf to create a faster, wider, more open race track. I’m also pleased they moved it a few weeks earlier and into a venue with heating, which I hope the crowd enjoyed!

The other problem in 2007 was that not enough information was given to the crowd. Stadium commentary from Martin Haven was good when describing the on-track action, not so good at explaining to the fans just who these people in the cars actually were. I swear most of the crowd were not dedicated motorsport fans so had no idea who half the drivers were, yet the whole organisation seemed geared around assumed knowledge among fans. I mean.. no video of their achievements on the big screen- surely this is a fairly basic requirement. To this day my Dad who came with me thinks ’07 RoC winner Mattias Ekstrom is a champion rally driver, I keep telling him he’s DTM but it doesn’t go in. What I’m saying is, the 2007 RoC was a good event with flaws, not the great event I’d expected and hoped for.

I’d not seen the RoC before or since because I didn’t have access to Sky Sports or Eurosport during this period and there was no web streaming. In 2009 there was web streaming but I was at work, for some inexplicable reason they’d held it midweek – all reports from those trying to watch it were that it was diabolical and the worst streaming experience they’d ever encountered.

This Year

This year there was web streaming for a fee, and coverage on MotorsTV which I don’t have. I wasn’t going to watch this year because of all the above problems and to start with I objected to paying for something other championships provide for free these days. But as the day approached I grew more excited for the event, the photos and videos being posted on Twitter by the likes of Heikki Kovalainen, Martin Haven and Neil Cole were really getting me into it. With less than hour before it started I’d decided, I was in. There were other reasons I relented:

  • I wanted to see this excellent match up of names;
  • This is an annual event unable to spread the investment costs of web coverage over a full season, on that basis a small charge is justified;
  • The circuit has been improved considerably, it is faster and more exciting;
  • I didn’t want to miss out on the excitement everyone else was getting caught up in;

Largely I am glad I did.

The Positives

– The actual racing itself was superb, there were some fantastic battles particularly in the VW Sciroccos with push-to-pass. When I first saw them I was convinced they would be the most boring vehicles of the lot, yet they really were the best as it seemed almost all the close finishes came with these cars. I wonder if it was the added bonus of the P2P tactics that brought me in? Not sure. Anyway, overall there were many close finishes and even some photo finishes, brilliant, this is why I got excited about it originally a few years ago. Loved both the Nations Cup and Race of Champions aspects. I have no complaints about the racing whatsoever, it was fantastic.

– As I said above, the track was far better than in 2007 and 2008, which I think was an improvement again over the Stade de France layout. I can’t speak for 2009 as like most people in Europe I was at work during that event and the streaming apparently didn’t work anyway.

– I liked the inclusion of the VW Sciroccos and the Audi R8s.

– Moving Martin Haven to join John Hindhaugh in the TV/online booth was a good decision, it didn’t always work (indeed for Saturday’s round-robin action they were thoroughly confused) but I thought when it did work it was really good (with the caveat of the criticisms below). Neil Cole and David Croft were top notch pit/paddock reporters and didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend.

– A big positive this year was the use of social media, @RaceofChampions was tweeting furiously throughout (including retweets of commentators, pit reporters and even some of the competing drivers – many of whom were posting photos/videos). Don’t underestimate how useful this was for catching things missed elsewhere and I relayed many messages on to my followers in case they weren’t following the account.

– Holding an event in Germany. Excellent choice.

– Despite what I’m about to say below I really did enjoy the event, the competition and cameradarie is everything it should be and more.

The… Less Than Positive

While the racing was good that’s not to say the weekend went smoothly. There were many problems, both major and minor. Several of them were fixed for the second day, some will need a bit more of a rethink on the part of the organisers.

– We have to start with the major problem first: the paid-for web feed was abysmal during Saturday’s Nations Cup. It stuttered, stopped and looped so many times it drove everyone to distraction and made the event unwatchable for a while. It started really well with a good quality feed so I wonder if the problems were caused by demand? I forget how long it was down for, it kept requiring a reset of the page (simple F5 and press Play again did the trick) which didn’t always work. Several of us missed a chunk of the Nations Cup because of it. Sidepodcast even gave up watching and demanded a refund, both actions I disagreed with vehemently because I had every expectation it would improve and it did, but the fact remains the stream should have worked well enough not to cause that reaction. It did eventually get going again without cutting out, but it was still scratchy with buffering and small amounts of looping and jumping. It wasn’t until Sunday’s running that the problems were truly cured, Sunday’s running suffered no problems whatsoever, it was flawless. It left me wondering if perhaps in 2011 they ought to offer Friday’s free practices live in order to shake out all these bugs, get them fixed for the real competition.

The stream was more than a little irritating and unprofessional. Had it been a free stream I’d have abandoned it just as early as others did without hesitation. Because I’d paid for it I was determined to keep trying until I absolutely knew it wouldn’t work, because frankly I’ve sat through enough web feeds of live sporting events to know they are incredibly tempermental and you just have to wait it out. This isn’t like some press conference in a hall somewhere, it is far more complicated, and equally these people don’t have BBC-levels of resources to provide their level of streaming. It means patience is required. Of course, if Sunday had been just as bad I’d have been queueing up for my money back.

There were two really bad instances and after that it got better, relatively. I did have to refresh some more times which was annoying, later that turned to buffering, frozen picture then replaying itself for 2-3 seconds as it sorted itself out which left me a minute or so behind. This kind of behaviour is what I expect from a web feed in my experience. For me it is is rare to expect a live web stream to work 100% flawlessly so I expect buffering and stuttering to some degree – then when it does work seamlessly I’m left impressed. The earlier stuff with the cut-outs and the dropping back 5 minutes were totally unacceptable though, more so since we paid for it.

– I am not sure what happened during the Nations Cup, it was one of two things:  Either 1) the commentary team had been given the wrong information beforehand, or 2) the organisers of the event changed the format at the last second. The opening rounds were set up like the World Cup, a round-robin competition with the drivers finishing 1st and 2nd in the group progressing to the next round, based on number of wins and with a tiebreak on time. Unfortunately Haven & Hindy seemed to think it was still the best-of-3 knockout competition of previous years. When they figured out it was a group format, they didn’t know what the ‘Time’ column meant on the on-screen captions. They knew it was a tiebreak but didn’t know if it was cumulative time, best times, or something else. All this stuff should have been prepped and learned beforehand, if it was their error I’d be quite surprised (but not impossible) because they are experienced guys so I’m willing to believe it was either a late change or someone had given them the wrong details. Haven and Hindy were left holding the baby, trying to work with it but really ought to have given up at one stage and went with the flow. I like to think I know enough about these guys by now that they’d do the proper research before the event to know what the format was supposed to be – surely? – so for the time being I’ll blame the RoC organisers. I might be wrong, it could be the guys’ fault. Sunday was pretty much flawless, there were a few calls of a driver leading when I was sure it was the other one.. but that could’ve been me.

– The TV coverage was on MotorsTV only, which was a shame. I quite like Motors and they do reasonably well on a tiny budget but their audience share is negligible. The Race of Champions should be on Eurosport, ESPN or Sky Sports. I don’t want MotorsTV to go out of business but ‘champions’ ought to be represented somewhere with a higher profile.

– Organising an event in Germany was brilliant. Doing so when their main domestic championship was out of the country was not. I’ve no idea who fixed a date first, it could be DTM’s fault – either way it was a disappointment. I have to assume RoC and ITR/DTM consulted each other and couldn’t reach agreement on a date. Shame. DTM champ Mattias Ekstrom is a past RoC champion and he demonstrated his Audi at Wembley.

Minor Issues

– The driver line-ups are still curious and there are some strange choices, many seemingly flouting the ‘Champions’ name. I still don’t know how Albuquerque, Pastrana and Foust qualify even though they are great personalities and great talents – indeed the first named won Sunday’s RoC so he’s no slouch and I think this event could be the making of the man. But.. if this is a true Race of Champions, what had they won before this weekend? It might be that some of them actually have won things – we weren’t told. Even with people as good as Kovalainen, people maybe ought to have been told he qualifies as winner of the 2004 Renault World Series (or Nissan, as was). And while the BTCC champion in my eyes is a perfectly valid addition, do many people outside the UK know who Jason Plato is? Do many in Europe know who Carl Edwards is, for that matter? I’m not talking dedicated racing freaks like us, I mean normal people! I do completely understand that not all invitees might be there, due to contractual obligations and such like.

It goes back to what I said before about telling the audience who people are. Haven/Hindy did a fair job but you have to wonder if it should be left to the commentary to do it. There were some great little segments introducing each vehicle before each round and these began to be repeated a little too often – could it hurt to have something similar for drivers in that space in the coverage?

– The failing of the circuit timing (apparently a new system) would not normally be forgiveable. As an end-of-year knockaround I’m not quite so bothered as I would be for a major championship event, and I wouldn’t be at all if it had remained a knockout format start to finish as the timing would be irrelevant. Since the tiebreaker for progressing to the semi-finals was based on time (though we’re still not sure how – it seemed to be the two best times added together) and the system was broken, you do have to wonder if any of the drivers or teams were promoted incorrectly.

– Tell the drivers what is happening, the pit reporters shouldn’t be the ones to tell them they are in the final.

Summary

Despite many flaws I really thoroughly enjoyed the Race of Champions. It may not seem like it but I’m trying to provide constructive feedback! Once again it was a good event with flaws, not a truly great event, and the reason I’m being critical is because the potential is there for everyone to see, it is so tantalisingly close. I don’t know many that don’t like the RoC as a concept, the execution could be a little better that’s all. If they are able to address even half of these issues – web streaming is a must – then it will be even better.

I have every intention of watching next year and I expect to see improvements.