Race Rip: F1 Monaco 2014

As I watched the podium “ceremony” in Monaco, I became very confused. I checked my phone and my computer and confirmed that it was indeed Sunday morning and I was not watching a weekday soap opera. The similarities between a soap and the Mercedes duo’s antics on the podium do create a lot of press, but also tarnish the professional image of Formula 1. Drivers have always been extremely competitive people, and we should do nothing to diminish or quash that unique aspect of the sport. But in addition to a code of conduct on the track (rules about passing, etc.) there has always been a code of conduct in the paddock. Professionalism is supposed to demonstrate a competitor’s ability to accept, tolerate, and compete within a set of rules. Additionally, racing (especially F1) isn’t cheap, and professional athletes are expected to act like professionals in their roles as role models and spokespersons. There is an exception for what happens on the track. For example, I don’t look dimly on Ed Carpenter’s immediate reaction to getting taken out by James Hinchcliffe in the Indy 500. While referencing a serious injury like a concussion may have been less than graceful, a competitor never wants to be taken out of the game and Carpenter’s frustration was understandable and real.

But back across the pond in Monaco, how did Nico wrong Lewis by competing fairly and beating him? Similarly, what did Lewis do wrong by beating Nico for four GP in a row? The answer to both questions is absolutely nothing. When people act like they have been wronged when in fact no wrong has occurred, they’re not being competitive: they’re bitching. They’re whining. They’re acting like children, and we as fans should not tolerate it. Everywhere you go in life, you will undoubtedly find someone who is better than you at something. Even the best aren’t number one in everything. Nico’s frustration at how things were going when Lewis was beating him regularly was completely understandable. However, frustration is a personal feeling and does not mean showing ill will or disregard for a fellow competitor’s achievements. Nico, however, does not have Lewis’ track record of sulking and whining. I’ve been a Lewis Hamilton fan from the time he entered the Formula 1 world in 2007. That was the first season I began watching F1. Lewis got his first win on my birthday at the track closest to my house. As someone whose native field is politics, I cheered for a person of color to win in a sport that has historically been rather white-washed. However, my favouritism of Lewis has wained over the years. Sure, he had a rough entrance into F1 with Alonso that may have set him up for this. But Lewis’ behavior has demonstrated a pattern of narcissism and now borderline paranoia that will make him a handful for any team he races for. I’ll never forget watching the interview with Lewis and Heikki Kovalainen in 2009. Lewis was sitting there like a hawk listening to each and every word Kovalainen uttered. When the McLaren chassis proved to be subpar in 2009, Lewis started demanding a new car be designed mid-season. For several years at McLaren, Lewis couldn’t find an opening-lap crash he didn’t like and easily became frustrated with the team. And now Lewis is acting exactly like Alonso acted with him in 2007. It appears that what Lewis has tried so hard to avoid (his experience with Alonso in 2007) has actually turned him into the very thing he is trying not to be.

I should have spent this article writing about racing, like Marussia scoring a point, the challenges of Monaco, and the passing we saw this year is unusual places. But what is remembered best is often remembered last. In this case, the immaturity after the race will cast a dark cloud over the entirety of this year’s event. Much like the Hungarian GP in 2007, Monaco will be a GP that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Race Rip: MotoGP Le Mans 2014

Okay, so this is a week late. Better late than never.

Sometimes I think Marc Marquez is kind of like the Joker: He’s so good that he toys with us fans because he can. In two of the last three grands prix Marquez has made terrible starts only to knife his way through the field and storm to yet another commanding victory. Whether Marquez made genuine errors at the start of each GP or Carmelo Ezpeleta whispered in his ear to not risk making World Superbike look even better, Marquez remains the enigma that is driving MotoGP. Much like 2002 when Rossi was serving up dominance while Edwards and Bayliss were dueling it out, MotoGP runs the risk of fans losing interest because races are nearly pre-determined. Additionally, Marquez lacks the charisma that Rossi delivered to MotoGP. While his talent is beyond question, professional athletes are nevertheless entertainers, or at best, personalities. It’s not Marquez’s fault he can come across as a mild Kimi Raikkonen. It does not mean there is anything wrong with him or that he is doing anything wrong. But fans like people who make them smile and laugh, and Rossi has spoiled fans rotten for the last 15 years. Marquez is also from Spain, which is already moto-crazy and is therefore not delivering new fans to the sport. Nevertheless, the French GP was another Marquez showcase. So while Marque is driving MotoGP, he could be driving it into the ground. The racing in World Superbike has been compelling and close with multiple brands and riders capable of winning any given race. MotoGP needs to up its game rather than continue to punish World Superbike for clearly outperforming it.

Outside of Marquez’s exemplary performance, Rossi showed again that he still has the touch. Body position apologists across the road racing world must be rejoicing at seeing Rossi’s stark improvement from last year simply by hanging off the bike more. Moreover, the team’s number one rider Jorge Lorenzo was down in sixth. Looks like the Doctor found the cure to his own ailment. Also down the order was Dani Pedrosa, who finished in fifth behind the satellite Honda of Alvaro Bautista. While Vale was probably happy he had Marc standing in between him and Bautista on the podium, Bautista’s podium on a satellite bike shows that when he doesn’t submarine Valentino, his skill may justify his coveted ride.


History, Safety & Speed: Should World Superbike Continue Racing at Imola?

As I watched the World Superbike races last weekend at the Autodromo de Enzo y Dino Ferrari (a.k.a. Imola), I could not help but think of the circuit’s recent past. The place is steeped in motorsports history. Who can forget the images of World Superbike greats like Bayliss and Edwards going like hell in the “Showdown.” While I was not a World Superbike fan at the time, Imola will always have a special place in my heart. I have only seen the circuit through a television screen, but it held the first Formula 1 grand prix I ever watched. I was mesmerized not only by the technology and sexy-fast appearance of the F1 cars, but also by the evident challenge the circuit posed to drivers and teams alike. The circuit’s flowing yet challenging nature drew me to it. In particular, I fell in love with the Piratella corner. It is fast, flowing, technical, and visually stunning all at the same time.

Despite my long-held affection for the place, Imola’s recent reception and impact on the World Superbike community makes me wonder whether World Superbike should continue to race there. Yes, I am aware that Ducati’s factory and headquarters is right down the road from Imola. However, for a company so deeply immersed in a history of competition, Ducati should understand as much as any other OEM the value of safety to their brand. I am not talking here of the death of Ayrton Senna. As the motorsports community recently took pause on the anniversary of his tragic passing, the impact of losing Senna sent tidal waves through the grand prix racing community. Changes were immediately made to the circuit and the series to redress the oversights and failures that led to his unfortunate passing.

However, World Superbike has taken a very different approach to Imola compared to Formula 1’s actions 20 years ago. My reservations about Imola began when Joan Lascorz, a very talented rider riding for the Kawasaki factory team, crashed and was paralyzed in 2012. Reports indicate that Lascorz was coming over the crest into the Piratella when his bike had a violent tank-slapper, crashed, and Lascorz’s back struck an exposed concrete wall. As I watched the race this year, I tried to pay careful attention to that wall, looking to see if the wall had been moved or covered with air fence. While there may have been a tire wall behind a lime-green cover to match the rest of the track’s barriers, it appears that the concrete barrier that took away Lascorz’s ability to walk and race remains firmly in place. Moreover, Steve Martin’s color commentary for the last 3 years makes clear that there is insufficient run-off room at the entrance to the Piratella complex. The same could be said for the Variante Bassa. Despite the low speeds it is designed to create, it provides riders little to no margin for error as they exit the chicane.

In a sport that is presently marked by unavoidable danger (e.g. the Marco Simoncelli accident) and a hooliganistic media image, the sport cannot afford to sacrifice safety in the name of either history or profit. While the aura of racing in venues like Imola and Monza may be attractive, motorcycle road racing’s leaders have the responsibility of protecting and improving the sports’ image and protecting riders from having to choose between going racing and personal safety. For a problem that has had such dire consequences as well as pointed media attention, what does it say when a series continues to host an event in spite of obvious danger? World Superbike is not alone. While I will discuss AMA Pro Racing’s failures of this sort in a separate article, World Superbike needs to understand that the best safety practices are proactive, not reactive. Unless structural changes are made to the facility, World Superbike runs the risk of having to learn the hard way the lessons Imola painfully taught Formula 1 over 20 years ago. I am not writing this because I have a perfect solution. Rather I am merely pointing out the severity of an obvious problem that could have a lasting, painful impact of the sport’s future.