Friday, 30 October 2015

Lewis Hamilton: Three times World Champion

Last weekend Lewis Hamilton got his dream come true: he matched Ayrton Senna's number of world championships. The race in Austin was the best of the year, and until the last few laps it looked like Lewis would have to wait another race to claim the championship.

Last year we watched Lewis mature, this year he is at the height of his powers. The only weakness he had last year was qualifying, and this year he has well and truly beaten Nico Rosberg, He is driving at his best and the results are showing it. Off track, he seems to be very happy too and a happy Lewis is a fast Lewis.

Nico Rosberg looks well and truly beaten. After Austin he had a face like a slapped arse. He was complaining about Lewis being aggressive into turn one. It was wet and Lewis got the better start to be alongside the pole sitter. When they came to brake they found it difficult to turn in and their wheels touched. It was fine and Nico needs to grow a pair.

In fact it is now apparent that Lewis is faster and a better racer. Nico will not be world champion in the same team as Lewis. Whether he comes to the same conclusion and settles into a number two role next year or, as I expect, make all the noises of coming back better and faster next year only to be blown away again is up to him.

What next for Lewis? It would be brilliant to have a real Lewis vs Seb Vettel battle next year but I wouldn't bet against a fourth world championship. He should be able to get close to Prost's win tally, and the Senna's pole tally. I think 5 world championships are in reach.

Well done Lewis.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Viewing the F1 scene

We have 5 races to go until the end of the season, and it's time to look at how the season has been going and draw some conclusions.

The Mercedes team are still the class act with the fastest car. Lewis Hamilton is the master of all currently, with 11 pole positions and 8 wins. Nico Rosberg looks like a beaten man, whatever he throws at Lewis Hamilton the champ has an answer. They have dropped the ball three times. Monaco must have been awful for Lewis, to see his perfect weekend blown up by a bad call and the win gifted to his team-mate. In Hungary, Lewis had an off-day maybe triggered by the gathering before the race to celebrate the life of Jules Bianchi. Mercedes were off the pace in Singapore.

The Ferrari team have shown much improvement, with Vettel having three wins and a pole. It's good for F1 that the team are competitive and that they have a media friendly boss in Mauricio Arrivabene. I think it would have been better for Ferrari if they had let Kimi Raikkonen go, he's past his best and there needs to be some young blood.

Williams have disappointed this season. They're still good enough for third place but have not advanced since last year.

I've been impressed by Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz. Both have been good racers and on certain weekends have shown good pace. Verstappen's pass on Nasr at Blanchimont, Spa, was amazing. He knows no fear - yet!

The Red Bull is a good chassis but the Renault engine has disappointed badly. How can the engine have got so worse since last year? It has been disappointing to see them bad-mouthing Renault after winning 4 championships with them. It's no surprise that Renault have decided to pull out from engine supply. It's also no surprise that Red Bull are finding it hard to get another supplier. If I was Christian Horner I would pay Ferrari for the design to their engine and get a third party involved to build engines and take it forward.

I really hope Renault buy out Lotus as the Enstone team deserve to be in F1 due to their heritage. I wish Renault would decide what they want to do with F1. They're in, they supply engines, they're out, then they're in and then back to supplying engines. Make your mind up.

And now to McLaren Honda. What a disaster. When the McLaren-Honda tie-up was announced everyone thought, wow the two powerhouses are getting back together, everyone hould look out. I wasn't convinced. This is Honda's fourth time in F1, and only their second venture as an engine supplier to Williams and McLaren was successful. At the end of that period they had been superceded by Renault. Their third coming was poor. McLaren isn't the power it used to be either. Their last constructor's championship would have been 2007 (apart from the spying scandal) and was 1998 before that.

The car is slow, the drivers de-motivated and cracks are appearing in the management structures. Honda has a policy of rotating technical staff into the F1 programme and then out into the road cars. They don't bring people in from outside. This time they have bitten more than they can chew and they need to eat some humble pie. It's such a shame.

The other teams have not really changed their positions or outlook.

As for F1 itself. The season has been more dull than last year with poor races, apart from Silverstone and Hungary. I quite like some of the suggestions to spice up the action. Wider cars, bigger tyres, more horsepower, bigger batteries, ground effects, reduce the number of planes on wings: all these things would improve the racing. A flatter payment system as described in earlier posts would also be a big help.

Now, only a few more weeks until we crown the 2015 champion.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Just three weeks to go for Labour to regain sanity

September 12th is only just three weeks away. All the signs are that the Labour party is about to elect Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.

A few weeks ago I posted that the polls show Corbyn in the leader, but I didn't believe that the party would be stupid enough to go through with it. It now looks like I was wrong and Labour is in a kamikazi mood.

We now have to consider what would happen if he won. I previously pondered that he would step down immediately, now I don't think so and he will try to oppose. How that will be done though, I don't know. 

There are some challenges. Firstly, Corbyn has said that he will pick his own shadow cabinet after previously saying that he would bring back shadow cabinet elections. He actually gave his Labour opponents a good idea for ruining his leadership with his earlier plan. There may be movements to bring back shadow cabinet elections before the leader is announced on the 12th. If many moderates stand in this election and have to be appointed to the shadow cabinet they can make it pretty impossible for Corbyn to effectively oppose. There will be splits in the shadow cabinet on a daily basis.

Maybe Jeremy Corbyn will get to appoint his own people, but with so few supporters amongst his own MPs would he be able to fill enough posts? And will these people, who are a permanent awkward squad, be able to show loyalty to their leader? They've never been able to do it before!

Even if Corbyn gets a shadow cabinet, how on earth can he command a majority of his own MPs for the parliamentary votes. David Cameron and George Osborne will bring forward votes on lots of policies which moderate Labour MPs agree with. It will be like two cats playing with a mouse.

Let's say that the majority of moderates stay silent and go along with Corbyn's votes for the most part. What happens when the polls and elections show Corbyn to be a loser (as they surely will)? Will they still keep their counsel?

Meanwhile, and you can guarantee this, the Tories will bring up every past dubious association that Corbyn has shown in the past 30 years. We've had a taster the last few weeks with some stories of dubious appearances to some extremists, I'm pretty sure that it's the tip of the iceberg.

Also, there's been some fleeting shows of Corbyn's hot temper. Given some tough questioning by our more difficult interviewers it's clear that he will lose his rag. How will this come across?

There are also questions about what the other moderates will do? Will there be a split? Probably not. They will easily be able to get enough signatures to trigger a new election, but will they want to against a big democratic mandate for Corbyn? Will they stay to agitate while waiting for Corbyn to crash and burn?

This is definitely the most interesting period of politics for the last thirty years, and I haven't even starting talking about Corbyn's crackpot policies. Let's tackle them if and when he becomes leader.

It's so gripping.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Labour pains

It's been an interesting few weeks for the Labour party.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, created a situation where Labour had to decide whether to vote for or against the Welfare Bill. Harriet Harman thought it a good idea to back certain aspects of the bill, including the controversial proposal to limit child tax credit to two children for new applicants. This had the leadership contenders in a tizzy, and a quick backtrack.

Both Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper called it a mess, and it was.

In hustings up and down the country Jeremy Corbyn has been doing well, and Liz Kendall has been received poorly. This bodes ill for the party.

Then there was the YouGov poll which showed that Corbyn could win the first round, and then the overall contest after second preferences are counted for. This really has set the cat amongst the pigeons.

When Corbyn gained enough MPs to enter the race it was so that a debate could happen, he wasn't meant to win!

Tony Blair made a speech telling Labour that it has re-learnt how to lose. It's funny how the Tories revere their most recent serial election winner, Mrs Thatcher, where Labour revile their most successful leader ever. And so his words will fall on deaf ears.

It seems crazy that Labour may elect Mr Corbyn, but it is under a new leadership election system with new members for only £3. Liz Kendall is the only realistic prospect for election victory but she is last at the moment. Labour really don't want to win.

If I was going to compare it with the Tories, this is the 2001 when Iain Duncan-Smith was elected, but Corbyn is even further from the mainstream.

The party is beginning to lose its mind. What will happen if Mr Corbyn does win? Maybe he will step aside. I can't imagine many of the current crop of shadow ministers serving under Mr Corbyn, and so we may get a shadow cabinet of lefties and misfits! Fascinating.

Maybe there will be split.

There is much more to come in this story.


Sunday, 12 July 2015

Greece: Crunch day

The whole Greek Euro crisis has felt like Groundhog day. How many times have we been told that it is crunch time and that there is a firm deadline only for there to be an extension? We were told there was a deadline two weeks ago when Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for last Sunday, delaying a decision by a week. We then had the referendum which led to new talks. Today is supposed to be the new deadline...

Somehow, this time, it does feel like decision day but maybe it will be another false dawn. 20th July, is though, coming up fast and that is when £3Bn has to be paid back to the ECB. Maybe that will be the new deadline after today.

Anyway, it's been fascinating to watch. I was surprised that the Greek public voted quite so comprehensively against the last bail-out. I'm pretty sure they would be disappointed that the deal proposed by the Greek Government for this weekend is even tougher on Greece than the deal the public rejected last week. All the tactics deployed by the Greek Government over the last few weeks, with speeches denouncing the creditors as blackmailers wanting humiliation for Greece, have led then rest of the EU to be distrustful of the Greek Government, and that is coming across in talks today.

Will there be a deal? I hope not. I know that a Grexit will be incredibly painful for the Greek population, but I think will lead to a real improvement in a couple of years time whereas I think a deal will still be difficult and lead us back to here in three years time. Greece will be in pain in perpetuity until they exit.

I still think, though, that there will be some kind of dodgy deal knocked up. Let us remember that this deal would not be to prop up Greece, but to prop up the Euro.

The Euro has been an unmitigated disaster for many countries. I remember texting into Question Time at the turn of the century when the question of whether we should join the Euro cropped up. Some panellists were saying how the Euro was proving to be successful. My comment was let's see in 10 years, when we see it have to deal with a recession. We've now seen how it has coped. Abysmally. The Euro has been in crisis for half its lifetime.

The implicit contradictions built into the project have been exposed and at some point will have to be tackled. But EuroZone leaders want to bury their heads in the sand, which is why they're still pushing for a deal!

Meanwhile, the Greek banks are slowly becoming insolvent. I'm not sure they can survive another week dishing out 60 Euro notes each day to the population. When the first bank goes down, the others will quickly follow suit.

The End Game could come quickly.... or not!

Today may well be decisive.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Labour: The debate....

I've heard countless Labour commentators and politicians talking about how they wish Labour could have a real debate about why they lost before embarking upon a leadership contest.

I'm interested to know how such a debate could take place. Would there be a meeting? Would it be through endless articles in the press? Would it be through focus groups? Who says when the debate ends? Who says what the results of the debate are? Is this the point at which a leadership election happens? What happens if the results of the leadership election is at odds with the results of the 'debate'.

I think it's all fatuous. These 'let's have a debate' ideas don't really add up to much.

The good idea of a leadership election is for the contenders to put their cases forward. If they cannot persuade their colleagues, then how are they expected to convince the voters? The party has to be able to believe in the leader and their position and direction. In essence the leadership vote is the debate. The MPs have to work out whether they want to keep to ideological positions or whether they want to win, and the result of the leadership vote indicates where the party is.

It was only when the Tories elected David Cameron that we knew they were serious about being a party of the centre and ready to win. His election was the manifestation of the debate within the Tory party.

Now where I do agree with the commentators is for the delay before embarking on the leadership vote. Harriet Harman should have put the leadership contenders in significant positions on the front bench to challenge the Tories. This is what Michael Howard did after he lost in 2005. It would be even useful to let them all have a go at PMQs. That's not what happened, and Liz Kendall is still Andy Burnham's number two at Shadow Health.

I think Labour are like the Tories circa 2003 rather than 2005 and I think they will need another attempt to get it right.



Serial: Real Murder

This is an aside from my usual blogs about politics and F1, but about something that has gripped me over the last year.

Anybody who watches Inspector Morse, Lewis, Midsummer Murders et al but would like to get into the nitty gritty of a real life case should listen to the 'Serial' podcasts.

They are from America (but hopefully that won't put you off) about a murder case in Baltimore from 1999. The podcasts talk you through the case of the murder of college girl, Hae Min Lee, a girl who went missing after school and turned up 28 days later in Leakin Park in the city.

At that point the police arrested her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed for her murder on some pretty flimsy evidence and the say so of his friend Jay, who claims to have helped Adnan dispose of the body.

Why is it so gripping? This is real life. Adnan Syed is still in jail serving his life sentence for Hae's murder. During the podcasts you get to hear from Adnan himself, snippets from the court cases, and also from police interviews. You are able to draw a few conclusions but there are discrepancies on both the prosecution and defence cases. But there is something about the way the narrative is told by Sarah Koenig, the investigative journalist, that draws you in.

I was around 65% certain that there had been a miscarriage of justice by the end of the series.

Why am I talking abut this when Serial finished last year? Because there is a second set of podcasts called 'Undisclosed' based on the same case by 3 lawyers who forensically go through the evidence, timing and testimonies and tear the case apart. The podcasts are being released once every two weeks, with a follow-up in the interleaved weeks.

So far I'm even more convinced of Adnan's innocence.

You have to listen and really concentrate to take it all in but it is absolutely gripping and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here's a link to the original Serial, and the lawyers views appear in Undisclosed.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Last thought on the election. The Losers: The Pollsters

The final losers I have to call out for the election are the pollsters. For month after month they were telling us that Labour and the Tories were neck and neck. We now know that this was baloney.

There have been plenty of reasons that pollsters have put forward for the discrepancy:

  1. The shy Tory - those that refuse to admit they vote Tory
  2. The lazy Labour - those Labour people who can't be bothered to vote
  3. The late swing - a last minute change of heart
  4. The non-representative sample - that pollsters tend to sample people who give them time (and there are more Tory professionals who don't have time to do polls)

The fact is that ever since 1992 the Tories have always been understated by roughly 3%, and Labour have been overstated in every general election by 2% apart from 2010. If you factor that into the poll figures then we get roughly near the final result. For that reason I think I'm more inclined to believe that the fourth explanation is closer to the truth and its a systemic problem.

Until the pollsters are proved to a general election spot on I'm going to be mentally adding 3% to the Tories and taking 2% off Labour in every poll. I suggest you do too.