The last lap redux

Last week the FIA met to discuss changes to F1 for 2015 and beyond. A number of the changes address issues that I raised in my article last month. I thought it would be a good time to take a brief look at where things have been changed and how.

 

The problems

Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – A number of poor tracks exist as pet projects that have poor layouts, oft poor racing and nobody watching… the FIA has now reintroduced one of the more boring races, Korea.

Ever younger drivers (2014) – For F1 to claim it is a sport for the best drivers, those drivers should have a certain amount of experience and therefore Max Verstappen with this one year of single seater experience should not be allowed in. The FIA have agreed, from 2016 (so after Verstappen), an F1 superlicense will only be granted to over 18s with at least two year’s single seater experience. This is a good move that should have been in place sooner.

Financing (ongoing) – The teams are meeting on 18th December to discuss F1 costs, the big teams will need to give the small teams some rope.

Double points (2014) – I threatened to stop watching Formula One if double points affected the championship fight and the prospect loomed large over the season finale. Fortunately Lewis Hamilton had everything under control and I didn’t need to worry. In addition, the FIA have now dropped double points for future seasons.

Poorly thought-through regulation changes – I came up with a few examples (including DRS) of gimmicks to improve the show, fortunately a number of new ones planned for next year have been dropped including standing starts after safety car periods.

 

Most of these changes are common sense and it is good to see that the FIA have made these changes. In addition, despite Bernie’s comments about F1 not being for young audiences and saying the sport will not embrace social media, there are plans in the works for the sport to increase its social presence with youtube and facebook being added to the existing twitter offering. Hopefully the sports leading teams and the sports owners can agree to lower their slices of the revenue pie and give the small teams more of a chance to succeed when they meet later this month.

The last lap

I started watching Formula One with the 1998 Spanish Grand Prix – won by Mika Hakkinen – and since that day I have not missed a single race, watching around 95% in their entirety without fast forwarding. That makes a streak of 295 consecutive F1 races. However, over the last three years I have had a growing feeling that I may just be watching for the sake of watching. The powers that be have decided to make changes to the sport to ‘improve the show’ that have led to me feeling alienated. In this post I am going to outline these changes and then outline some of my own ideas that I think could make me love the sport again.

The problems

DRS (2011 – today) – The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was brought in as a solution to aerodynamic efficiency leading to a lack of overtaking in the sport. The system allows a following car within 1 second to open a flap in their rear wing to reduce drag and give them a speed boost along a particular straight. To me, this is an unfair system as you are being punished for being ahead. If you are ahead, you deserve the chance to defend in a position that is stronger or equal to the driver behind; there should not be a rule that enables them to drive around you.

Poor attendance at tracks (ongoing) – F1 has always attracted new tracks and races. Some of these – such as Circuit of the Americas where this weekend’s race takes place – have been a big success. However, poor tracks that receive a poor attendance do no-one any good: just look at Korea. A lot of the circuits that are on the calendar are there as a marketing exercise for car manufacturers or are the pet project of a rich consortium for their pleasure. The circuits are poor, the racing they give is poor, but they are being used for the world’s premier single seater series.

Ever younger drivers (2014) – To me the intention of F1 is to have the best drivers in the world doing battle on track. Having a 17-year-old racing next year does not reflect this. Max Verstappen has one season of single seater racing under his belt and yet in 2015 he has a drive with Toro Rosso. To me that is a joke and disrespectful to drivers who are working their way up the ladder properly and have gotten where they are deservedly and not on their name. If F1 is easy enough for an inexperienced 17-year-old to take part in then it clearly is no longer enough of a challenge.

Engine noise (2014) – This is a minor point for me; I love the new power units and their general efficiency against previous cars. I also don’t particularly mind that the lap times have dropped since last year. However, that all being said, I still personally prefer the high pitched whine over the lower grumble this year. The old cars just sounded better and faster.

Domination (2014) – Again, a small point for me. I sat happily through five years of Schumacher domination and four years of Vettel domination. However, with Mercedes a second and a half quicker than the chasing pack it isn’t close to being a fair fight. We need more equalisation between the engines, otherwise we can get ready for many more years of Mercedes driving straight past people if they have to start from the back.

Financing (ongoing) – Two teams have just announced their inability to take part in a race in the same week. Meanwhile the teams at the top of the sport are being given extra money for showing up. By all means have performance-based prize funds, however, don’t reward teams that already have more money for attendance. Based on figures in Autosport magazine 30/10/2014, the smallest team, Caterham, is spending approximately four times less per year than Red Bull (the biggest team that doesn’t produce its own engines), and yet it is that small team that is failing. The cost of third party parts needs to be reigned-in to help smaller teams.

In addition, the costs of watching F1 in 2014 are prohibitive; it is now harder to watch F1. Few will pay £50+ per month to watch the racing on Sky, and going to a circuit is also ridiculously expensive. For the cost of general admission at Silverstone I can go to approximately six BTCC race events (18 races of 30). If the teams and the circuits aren’t making money and the fans are over-spending, do we really want to be lining the pockets of the sport’s owners?

Bernie paying his way out of a bribery case (2014) – Should you really be allowed to PAY to end a BRIBERY case?

Double points (2014) – If a driver wins the championship because they won a race that was worth more than all the other races I will stop watching and not turn back. This rule in a sport where reliability is a factor is not sporting.

Poorly thought-through regulation changes – F1 has become so desperate to improve the ‘show’ that it is practically no longer a sport. Artificial overtaking now rules, with the championship potentially no longer won by the most consistent driver, but the one who gets lucky in the last race. Next year there are plans for standing starts after safety cars, because starts are “more exciting” (with the clear potential for yet more safety cars). I want to see racing where overtakes are earned, and where the best driver in the best car is not cheated out of the championship.

Possible fixes

Remove bonuses for ‘legacy’ teams – Instead give all teams an even share of the pot as soon as they have completed their first full season. Allow prize money to spread the best teams from the worst. In addition, if you want to engage the fan base, lower the cost of entry, because if no-one is watching, there is no money.

More difficult super-license – Having young inexperienced drivers does not do the sport any favours, to be in F1 you should have to earn your place by working up the ladder, not by jumping several rungs.

Allow for a maximum cost cap of £100m – In 2009 Max Mosley attempted to enact a restrictive £40 million cost cap. For the big teams this was never going to be achievable. however, setting the bar higher so that it is lower than the large teams spend and bigger than the small teams spend means that there is still a small window for buying success. This would need to be balanced for teams that also produce their own engines, perhaps defining a separate cost cap that applies to engine production, which in turn defines a maximum price that an engine supplier can demand from teams.

DRS limit – DRS as it currently stands diminishes overtaking. However, it has proven itself as a means for getting one F1 car past another. An approach that I would like to see taken would be to change the rules so that each driver gets 10 uses of DRS per race. They can then plan when to use that, whether it be to attack or defend or pull away. It would have the current provisos regarding no use during wet conditions or within two laps of a start/restart, however, could be used anywhere on the track.

Ask the fans what they want – Instead of a group of old men making decisions about what the fan base wants or the sport needs, would it be so hard for the decision makers to ASK and listen to the fans? There has been overwhelming negativity for a number of recent rule changes, the loudest response regarding double points. It may be that fans want dumb gimmicks, but do some research and explain how the results led to the decisions made instead of just deciding on things like double points or medals or standing starts after safety cars.

 

F1 is not the sport that I started watching in 1998, in many ways it is a shadow of its former self that has continued down a path of allowing money to dictate both success and priorities. The victors are currently neither the drivers, the teams, nor the fans, just those at the top raking in millions of pounds off the sport each year. The racing is almost as entertaining as it has ever been, however, gimmicks being piled on top diminish the appeal and I have questions about how challenging the sport is now for drivers.

Simplifying

I have now decided to simplify. Previously my site was using a custom CMS that I had written from scratch in my free time, unfortunately it was getting fairly clunky. I have therefore reverted to using (insert name of generic blogging platform here).

We are still at the beginning of this adventure/step-backwards, I am still looking at what content to move across and what to get rid of. For a start, I have removed most posts from before 2009, as while that form of my blog had a purpose, reading the boring nonsense I typed during university is not going to appeal to anyone.

In addition, when/if the gallery arrives, it will be in a cut down format for a similar reason to that given for the old blog posts.

I am also going to attempt to use redirect on previous urls, that will be coming soon though.

My plan is now to post more regularly, I have had that plan before, lets see how it goes…

Remembering 2013

5. Taking my mother to Silverstone and Brands Hatch
The last time I went to Silverstone to watch F1 was 2010 and our rear windscreen got smashed, so while memorable it was not a great experience. This time I took my mother along for the first time and we greatly enjoyed qualifying day as our man Lewis Hamilton took pole position. After my trip to the States it was also great to be able to head to Brands Hatch in the autumn to watch another fantastic title showdown (even if the weather was wet and horrible).

4. Thanksgiving
After our first Thanksgiving in America it was nice to be back in England again with all of our friends round for turkey. A lot of them we had not seen since our barbeque the previous summer and so we had lots of catching up to do.

3. Getting very cold at an NFL playoff game and going to Wembley
I was not going to pass up the opportunity of seeing Denver play a home playoff game while I was in the city. I therefore stumped up the cash and got myself all kitted up to see them take on Baltimore. Unfortunately the game itself ended in an embarrassing loss, the temperature was a long way below 0, and I nearly got frostbite in my foot… but the experience was something I will not forget. Added to that, I got to go to both NFL games at Wembley and although the games were not brilliant it is wonderful being able to watch the sport on home turf.

2. Getting an awesome job
I began job hunting about two months before I was scheduled to leave America, it took me a month to find the perfect job and I ended up leaving the country a fortnight early for it. I am greatly enjoying working for Tempered Vision in Basingstoke, I’ve got a great boss and we have been working on some interesting projects.

1. Buying a house
The biggest thing that happened in 2013 was our getting on the property ladder, in fact since returning from America most things in our lives have changed. The house is the icing on the cake though and we are now very happily living in Billingshurst, just 8 miles down the road from where I grew up.

 

Film of the year 2013

2013 was one of those years where the report card of films released would say “could do better”. Sure there were plenty of decent movies in cinemas but few will be defined as greats. That didn’t stop Beth and I from watching around 20 new releases each though. Once again… we don’t agree very much.

Beth’s list:

10. The Wolverine
9. Hunger Games: Catching Fire
8. The Great Gatsby
7. Rush
6. About Time
5. Despicable Me 2
4. Star Trek: Into Darkness
3. The Lone Ranger
2. 42
1. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

It’s more interesting to me to remember when and where  and with whom I saw each of these films than actually ranking them 1-10. Hobbit is my top choice because it’s the one I looked forward to the most throughout the year. Not expecting it to stick closely to the book, I wasn’t disappointed but rather enjoyed the parts where it veered into back stories and material from Tolkien’s other writings.  42 was a powerful and insightful film about prejudice and sportsmanship and doing justice. I also enjoyed it because we had such fun seeing it with friends on a snowy night last spring! After these op choices the rankings get a bit fuzzy: 3 could be 4 or 5, 5 could be 6 or 7 etc. I enjoyed The Lone Ranger for Johnny Depp’s performance and the way it brought an old TV show to a new generation. I enjoyed  Star Trek as much as the first one and look forward to more. I enjoyed Despicable Me for the minions, of course! I’d like to see About Time again and notice more details I missed the first time around. Rush was exhilarating and emotional. The Great Gatsby was glamorous and brought to life an old book I was forced to read at school. Hunger Games and Wolverine both made for fun evenings out with friends and family and made the top 10 list easily, beating out a few others I saw this year like The Harry Hill Movie, Man of Steel, Oz the Great and Powerful, Identity Thief, and A Good Day to Die Hard.

Image from the Hobbit film site

Jonathan’s list:
10. The Wolverine
9. Now You See Me
8. About Time
7. Iron Man 3
6. 42
5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire
4. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
3. Rush
2. Star Trek: Into Darkness
1. Gravity

Gravity is the first film that I have seen in 3d that wowed me. Even then, the act of watching it on the biggest screen I could find added more to the experience. The effects made this movie, the storyline itself was strong but this film lived through its effects, and those had to be seen on a large screen. A DVD is not going to give the same experience but I do not think that is a reason to hold anything against this masterpiece. Again Abrams did a good job with Star Trek, Benedict Cumberbatch made the film and for the longest time I expected it to take the top spot. Rush was easily one of the best racing films of all time and handled the subject matter expertly. I will be coming back to that film many times through the years. But Gravity offered something different and new, it, for me, deserves its top spot.

Image from the gravity film website courtesy of warner bros.

Previous winners:

Beth

2012 – Trade of Innocents
2011 – King’s Speech
2010 – Toy Story 3
2009 – Beth was indecisive and picked 5 films
2008 – Juno

Jonathan

2012 – Django Unchained
2011 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
2010 – Inception
2009 – The Wrestler
2008 – The Dark Knight
2007 – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Game of the year 2013

A Slight change to the format this year. Previously, this category only involved games that were released in the calendar year in question, instead I am changing it to games I was introduced to during the past year as some of the games played over the last year should get recognition.

It was also helped by my only playing seven games that came out in 2013, this was the year that I finally got a PS3 and so I have a whole juicy library to catch up on.

5. Far Cry 3 – PC – 2012
Far Cry 3 was the game that I sunk the most time into this year. I loved the exploration of the island and while the story didn’t really hold my attention, the gameplay was great and made for a fantastic experience. I had less fun on the PS3 version due to annoying controller glitches that reared their ugly heads during combat and often led to my demise.

4. Bioshock Infinite – PC – 2013
The most beautiful game I have ever played and I really enjoyed the storyline, the combat just felt tagged on and ruined the experience for me.

3. Xcom Enemy Unknown – PS3 – 2012
This is second only to Far Cry in the number of hours I have sunk into it and I suspect it will eventually eclipse the Ubisoft game over time. The ability to create my friends as an alien killing super team and then have them wiped out just after the point in the storyline I got to in the previous playthrough always  gets me reloading and beginning again. The turn based controls work wonderfully with a controller and the experience is superbly put together.

2. Splinter Cell Blacklist – Xbox 360 – 2013
Purists can keep bleating about how this and the preceding Conviction are not real Splinter Cell games. While that may be true, I don’t care, this is much more fun. I love being able to sneak through levels unseen but at the same time, I love that the game allows you options if you do get spotted. Or if you are in a bad mood, you have the chance just to go in guns blazing without dying immediately.

1. Grand Theft Auto V – PS3 – 2013
Considering the size of the game space it is impressive how good GTA5 looks. The gameplay is tight and the driving controls are sooo much better than GTA4. The story may be poor and often trying too hard to be controversial, but I have such a good time just driving around exploring the island that I can ignore it. Rockstar have taken great elements from their other games of the past few years and created a masterpiece. They have created my game of the year for the second year in a row.

 

Past winners:

2012 – Max Payne
2011 – Portal 2
2010 – Mass Effect 2
2009 – Colin McRae: Dirt 2
2008 – Mass Effect
2007 – Super Mario Galaxy

Value for money

For a while now I have been pondering a decent equation for working out an item's value for money. It is hard to quantify whether something is worth what you are paying for it. It is also a subjective thing, what is it worth to you.

I decided therefore to come up with an equation to work it out, and here it is:

(D + (P/2) * E) / C

Duration – amount of time to be spent with/doing the item in hours

Prep – time spent enjoying the idea of the item or raving about it afterwards

Enjoyment – How much you enjoy the item out of 20 (20 is best)

Cost – Cost in pounds sterling

Here are a couple of examples:

Lord of the Rings – 3hrs + 0 = 3hrs; 3hrs * 16 = 48; 48/12 (cost £12)=4

Karting – 0.5hrs + (10hrs/2) = 5.5hrs; 5.5hrs * 20 = 110; 110/30 = 3.66

Therefore watching Lord of the Rings is better Value for Money than Karting…

It works for most things, people are better than commodities (helped because you spend more time with them and hopefully enjoy them more).

For things like insurance and bills you can rename enjoyment as usefulness and use the same formula… Obviously free things are great value for money…

 

Ice Soccer

Snow and I have not been getting on that well recently. Sure it is pretty while it falls but then it just sits around and stops me going places.

It did have one fortunate consequence though. Two weeks ago it meant that Ethan and I could invent the soon to be worldwide sensation of ice soccer.

Two players take to a quarter acre pitch and draw out a 40sq ft goal in the snow. It doesn't matter the exact dimensions as long as the area is approximately 40 sq feet. As such my goals tend to be long but narrow and Ethan's tend to be more square.

A five yard line is then drawn ahead of the goal all the way across the pitch. This is where you kick from if a goal is scored or the ball goes behind your goal.

The aim of the game is to get the ball to touch any portion of your opponents goal. It can land in and bounce out, glance a corner, whatever. If it touches the ground inside the goal area it is in.

You are permitted two touches of the ball. The first is your save of the previous players shot and the second is taken from where the ball ends up and is your shot.

Exploring Thursdays

Don't worry, this is not a blog post about the historical significance of Thursdays but more about how Beth and I are trying to get out and discover new things once a week.

In my first four months in America I lived based on the NFL schedule. Sunday, Monday and Thursday if there was a game on then I would be in front of a TV either in the Blomberg basement or a local bar. Now, with the NFL season all but over other things have to take up my time. 

This term Beth has no classes on Thursdays, she also declared at Christmas that as a present she wanted experiences instead of stuff. I also had the feeling that perhaps I had spent a little too much time down in the basement reading business books and working on little web projects. We therefore decided to head on out into the world and visit a museum or factory or interesting thing of cultural significance on Thursdays.

So far, we have had a great time going to three nearby places. First we went to the Coors brewery in nearby Golden. We also walked around the historic town the same day (Golden is tiny). Next we went to the Argo gold mine in Idaho Springs, taking in my favourite Colorado restaurant, which serves buffalo, at the same time. Then yesterday we a tour of the Hammonds Candy factory in north Denver. The machines in action in that factory were pretty impressive and we learned how candy canes and lollipops are made. Unfortunately they also had a shop where we may have spent a little too much. 

It is great because we are actually getting out of the house and experiencing things that we otherwise wouldn't. We have the next few weeks planned already as well with a tour of the Denver Mint, Coors Field (the baseball stadium) and Sports Authority @ Mile High (home of the Broncos) coming up. 

The rest of my week is filling up nicely as well. Monday is reserved for website work at the moment, Tuesday and Friday I work and then go to the gym and Wednesday I spend the morning volunteering with Denver Seminary's IT department. We have also successfully continued pasta Monday's in Denver and tend to get around eight people along each week. All is going well.

Game of the Year 2012

While it was a great year for movies in 2012 it seemed to be a fairly lackluster year for games. I am also finding myself with gradually less time to play the big releases when they came out. It seemed to be a year when small games could shine though. In a year when I played just 12 new games the bottom of my top 10 may not exude quality but the top games were all ones I have greatly enjoyed.

10. Worms Revolution – PC

9. Catherine – XBOX360

8. Fez – XBOX360

7. Mark of the Ninja – PC

6. Mass Effect 3 – XBOX360
The first two Mass Effect games were my Games of the Year and the first game was my game of the last decade. Mass Effect 3 was therefore a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t just the terrible ending, it just felt dull compared the supreme second entry. The series went further away from its RPG roots as the series progressed and ended up mainly as a Shooter. This diluted what made the series interesting in the first place.

5. Thomas Was Alone – PC
A nice little Indie game that makes you care about little blocks with its charming narrative and fun puzzle gameplay

4. Trials Evolution – XBOX360
I loved Trials 2, the only problem was that it was single player, Trials Evolution added an exciting multiplayer that had my friends and I chuckling away. The user made multiplayer tracks just added to a great experience.

3. Spec Ops the Line – PC
A great narrative makes some for some occasionally iffy shooter mechanics, you want to keep playing to find out what happens next.

2. F1 2012 – PC
The third time is a charm for Codemasters’ F1 series, the first game was good because it was the first entry for years. The second didn’t really hold my interest as it largely fixed the bugs from the first game while confusing with an odd menu system. The third game does away with the menus altogether and seeks to just get you racing quicker. The controls take a little getting used to but once you do they feel pretty tight. I am enjoying this game.

1. Max Payne – PC
After LA Noire lost me with its narrative and repetitive gameplay Max Payne did a great job of building my trust in Rockstar again. The controls are tight and exciting, the narrative is interesting and keeps you playing and the bullet time effects are great fun. All that plus it is a great game to look at and has a lot to offer. It is my game of 2012.

image from Rockstargames.com