Thursday, 26 March 2015

Leaders Debate: Cameron vs Miliband part 1

Here's a live blog:

Live Blog Leaders Debate 1

Sunday, 1 March 2015

F1 testing roundup

The 2015 winter season has ended, it's now just two weeks until the first Grand Prix in Melbourne. So what have we learnt?

The cars are going to be quite a bit quicker than last year. They look better in 2015 and may even be a little bit louder. But what about the competitive order? Not much appears to have changed.

Mercedes appear to be out front again. They have completed the whole of testing on one engine, and have been quickest when they chose to show their hand. They completed the most number of laps and have some great reliability. Williams seem to be in a similar position to last year as best of the rest, half a second behind the Mercs.

Red Bull are a bit of a puzzle. They seem relatively quick, but may have dropped back from last year, but their testing is better than last year. It's possible that they have a very good car, but the Renault engine is down on power and they will have dropped back.

The Ferrari looks much improved. The engine appears to be much better, the aerodynamics look better and their times might show them as the third best team. The car looks like it will suit Raikkonen better so expect him to be closer to Vettel than Alonso last year.

The McLaren looks like a much improved chassis with reports that it is much more predictable, something that Button particularly needs. The installation with Honda has been problematic though, and they have had a multitude of reliability issues, meaning that they haven't been able to do enough laps and demonstrate their true pace.

Force India turned up for the last three days of testing after issues of 'build problems' delaying them. When they did turn up, though, the car was good and extremely reliable. With reports of money worries, let's hope they can build a great season.

Toro Rosso have also run a lot of laps, and the car looks reasonable, but the Renault engine may let them down. The young Verstappen looks impressive.

The Sauber looks much improved. On top of having a better Ferrari engine, the chassis looks more stable especially around braking. Tey have put in fast times, though I suspect they have been show-boating a little.

We hope to see Manor/Marussia on the grid, though I suspect its still touch and go. They will run with a 2014 engine so will be uncompetitive, but they have to make it to the end of the year to continue with the payments from FOM.

It looks like it will be Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg again as champion, with Mercedes as constructors champions. I'm still looking forward to it though.


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A new chapter in Greek mythology

The final act in Greece's struggle with the Euro has started, in what will surely go down as a new story in Greek mythology.

Since the election of Syriza on a platform of ignoring debts, hoping people will lend money with no expected of being paid back and staying in the Eurozone whilst insulting the Germans, the new Government is demonstrating amazing hope over expectation.

The way the negotiations are going does not really bear out any likelihood that a deal will be done, though many commentators do expect a rabbit to be pulled from the hat. I don't think so. The Greek Government has got itself - quickly - into a position where by to pull back will be a humiliation. They have even asked the German Government to pay reparations for the second World War. Not bloody likely, and insulting to the people who have lent loads of money to the Greeks over the last few years.

The screws are being tightened on Greece whilst they raise the minimum wage, re-hire public sector staff that were laid off, re-open the public broadcaster, and scrap any privatizations. The European Central Bank has closed down a facility for providing liquidity to Greek banks, meaning that funding will have to come from the Greek central bank - that won't last long. In the mean time the stock market is plummeting and withdrawals from Greek banks is continuing at a steady rate.

It will not be too long, possibly the end of the month, by which Greece starts to feel some pain. It will need an emergency loan, and I don't think anyone, other than maybe Russia, will oblige. From there it will be a game of brinkmanship. Will the Greek Government give up, or will the German Government? I think the stakes are higher if the Germans give in. It then paves the way for Spain, Portugal and Irelend to start throwing debt repayments to the wind, and I don't think the EU will countenance Spain leaving.

I therefore think that Greece will be in a full blown crisis by the end of March, with runs on the banks and capital leaving the country. They will shortly have to leave the Eurozone, the return of a new Drachma and then major inflation and pain for the whole of Greece. It will then quickly turn itself around, and maybe Spain will be interested to go it's own way in the end anyway!

And it will be down to some short term choices, just when Greece had started to rebuild.

Let that be a lesson in not to fall for short term gimmicks, sometimes you need to just face the pain.


Saturday, 7 February 2015

F1 will eat itself

It's the end of the first week of testing in F1 2015 and we can draw a few conclusions.

Firstly, Mercedes are continuing where they left off. They have concentrated on reliability and so we cannot be sure of their performance, but rest assured that they will still be the team to beat.

The surprise is Ferrari, who seemed to be genuinely quick and reliable. Maybe they will be in a position to challenge this year, but possibly leading the second pack. Sauber seemed to have a much better car this year, and although I think their speed was deceptive (using low fuel loads) , in a much better position than last year.

The new McLaren looks like a better car, more refined and tightly packaged. But they were running well off the pace, with multiple issues surrounding sensors and the new Honda engine. It looks similar to the Renault problems from last year. If they can be resolved maybe they can challenge Red Bull, Ferrari and Williams for best of the rest.

The biggest disappointment has been from the meeting this week which refused the restarted Manor/Marussia from using last year's car. Apparently it was Force India that voted first and they refused. There is the little matter of Marussia's prize money of £30m being split equally amongst the other teams if they do not race. It could come down to greed.

F1's ruling structures are crazy. How can it be that teams get to vote on their competitor's rights to race?! Surely it should come under the FIA to determine. I guess it's because they are asking to race last year's car, and need the others to agree. But F1 has lost so many teams in the last few years and the competitors should put the sport before themselves. I understand Ron Dennis and Christian Horner were going to allow Marussia, so good on them!


Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 ends, 2015 begins

As is customary at this time I mark last year's predictions and create some new ones for the coming year.

Firstly, last years:

  1. The economy will grow by 2.5% to 3% this year. 1 point
  2. The opinion polls will end the year at 36% Tory, 35% Labour, 12% LibDem, 10% UKIP. 1/2 point (Tories and Labour are level pegging)
  3. The European elections will give Labour the lead, UKIP 2nd (just behind), Tories 3rd and LibDems 4th. 0 points, UKIP led and the LibDems did worse
  4. Lewis Hamilton will win the F1 World Championship. 1 point
  5. The Ferrari power plant will be bad, leading to Alonso ditching them and joining McLaren for 2015. 1 point
  6. Tony Blair will speak out against Ed Miliband's leadership. 1/2 point (he sort of did yesterday and backtracked today)
  7. Vince Cable will resign or be sacked (hopefully). 0 points, still hanging in there 
  8. Peter Mandelson will do Strictly. 0 points
  9. Scotland will vote against independence. 1 point
  10. Gordon Brown will announce he's leaving parliament in 2015. 1 point

Overall 6 out of 10. Not bad this year, certainly better than last year!
Now for 2015 predictions.

  1. The economy will continue to recover, and will grow by 2.5% this year. Wages growth will really begin to outstrip inflation/
  2. The General Election will be close, final tally Tories 36%, Labour 31%, Lib Dems 10%, UKIP 12%.
  3. Tories and Lib Dems will form a second coalition.
  4. Lewis Hamilton will win the F1 World Championship again.
  5. Sebastien Vettel will not perform as well as Alonso at Ferrari, and Ferrari will end the year in greater turmoil with Raikkonen being sacked.
  6. Labour will have a leadership election with Chukka Umuna winning.
  7. Vince Cable will lose his seat in the election (hopefully)
  8. UKIP will gain 2 seats at the General Election, but Rochester & Strood will not be one of them. Douglas Carswell will be re-elected.
  9. Hilary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul will all run for the US Presidential primaries.
  10. Nick Clegg will resign the leadership of the Lib Dems.

Ok, let's see what happens. The General Election is going to be the most unpredictable in generations, so most of the above could  be wrong.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Well done Lewis

Fantastic result. Well deserved.

Now to 2015.


Four hours to the title showdown: Hamilton vs Rosberg

You may be reading this after the race and know the result, or just before and in anticipation of the culmination of a fascinating season.

Yesterday, as so many times this season, Nico Rosberg grabbed pole after Lewis Hamilton was strangely off-colour on a Saturday. Usually, however, Hamilton has come back stronger and faster on Sunday, and I expect no different today. Hamilton is quick around Abu Dhabi, and without any other issues I'd expect him to prevail.

There's 17 points difference and Hamilton only needs to come second, but I don't expect him to tighten and win just by settling, like he did in 2008. Let's really hope that there are no mechanical issues, and I think the mechanics on both sides of the Mercedes garage will be desperate to avoid any issues.

Nico Rosberg has shown prodigious speed this year, and has surprised many, including me. He's also shown ruthlessness with the deliberate actions in Monaco and Spa, he definitely isn't the Mr Nice Guy we all presumed. There is an arrogance there which most F1 champs have. For another take, read Will Buxton's blog.

Lewis Hamilton has shown a lot more maturity this year, he's made more mistakes than I would expect, but he always bounces back, which he wouldn't have done a few years ago. I think he's more tense than he appears, but that is understandable. He has shown brilliant race-craft, which is such a stark contrast to his wayward 2011 season, where he would quite often collide with Felipe Massa! If his Saturday's have been more troubled than usual, his Sundays have been spectacular. I think by 10 wins to 5 and by coming back from a points deficit twice, he deserves this championship. For another take, check Will Buxton's Blog again.

Just a few hours to go.

Now to another issue. The demise of Marussia, possible death of Caterham and struggles for Force India, Sauber and Lotus has highlighted the terrible financial state of Formula 1. It's absolutely crazy that Ferrari and Red Bull get over £100m per year, and Marussia were getting £7m! I don't mind having a premium for success but that is just ridiculous. I would say increments of £3m for each place in the constructor's championship. Meaning that the gap between the top and bottom teams should be £30m at most. If I can see this, why can't F1?

Bernie Ecclestone has been name calling the three teams of Force India, Sauber, and Sauber and his behaviour is becoming increasingly bizarre. He recently said that F1 doesn't need young fans who can't buy Rolex watches! Hello? Where do older fans comes from, younger fans you idiot! I'm still watching and can afford a Rolex, but I started at the age of 14, when I couldn't. It's time for Bernie to toodle off.

Finally, how to tackle F1 in the absence of a change in money. Three car teams and customer cars have been raised. Christian Horner, as Ecclestone's mouthpiece, has complained about the new engines and wants to go back to the old V8s. That would be a disaster for the whole grid. The new formula is interesting and gives F1 a new purpose in developing hybrid car technology for the future of the human race.

But the new engines are expensive at £25m and the old engines were only £5m. I would suggest we did something similar to the late 80's where there was a choice of turbo or normally aspirated engines. We could allow slightly de-tuned or RPM limited old V8s to be fitted to cars. The cars would be unlikely to win but could make it to the midfield. In 2006 Toro Rosso was allowed to run de-tuned V10s, so it's not so bizarre an option!

Anyway, rant over.

Enjoy the race!


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Rochester and Strood

Today has been the Rochester and Strood by-election following the defection of the Tory MP Mark Reckless to UKIP.

This is supposed to be a key by-election for the Tories, UKIP and Labour. Maybe a verdict on Ed Miliband, maybe whether the Prime Minister can keep his troops in line until the General Election, and maybe the end of the UKIP rise.

Exciting then? As a resident of Rochester I looked forward to discussing issues with the candidates as they came canvassing. Unfortunately none came, which disappointed me. We got plenty of leaflets, however, two from UKIP, around six from the Tories, two from Labour and one from the LibDems. But no people. The high street was busy with the shops converted into makeshift political offices.

Make of it what you will that UKIP took over a spiritualist ex-wiccan shop, the Tories an old games shop and Labour the old butchers (I still miss their fantastic sausage rolls).

I did go to one of the hustings in the corn exchange. The Labour candidate was the most impressive but was poorly supported. One of the other candidates was in the audience and asked whether the main candidates wanted disabled people and pensioners to have a sex life! A strange question, which was not answered!

This morning I voted early (at 7 am), there were four others in front of me - which is quite brisk in my view. I don't know what this means, which candidate out of the two possible victors it favours.

I'll be watching as much coverage as possible tonight, hoping for an early result as I have work to go to tomorrow morning and busy weekend of F1 championship deciders to watch.

Still exciting.