The Fast Lane – Glitz, Glamour and overtaking in Monaco

May 29, 2011

I remember saying earlier this week that the real test for F1 2011 would be at Monaco this weekend. This season has produced an immense amount of action and tension (all be it with the same person winning most races), but is it really possible to keep that excitement up around the tight, twisty and notoriously overtaking-lite Monte Carlo streets. Turns out it is.

This has to be one of the best Monaco Grand Prix I have witnessed with battles throughout the field and what was looking at times like a very tight ending.

But for such an amazing race, the start was a little quiet with the only action being provided by Michael Schumacher – first bogging down on the grid and the pulling a brave and perhaps risky move around the inside of Lewis Hamilton at the hairpin. A great piece of opportunist racing from Schumi, but sadly it was the be the only one in what was another disappointing weekend for the 7-time world champion.

With the first few laps over and Vettel already seconds ahead of his competitors, it was looking like another dull Monaco Grand Prix. But that wasn’t to be the case.

One of the reasons for this was actually a comedy of errors in the pit lane. Unbelievably, this started with the normally bulletproof combination of Red Bull and Vettel. The mechanics were waiting, with the prime compound tyres – the wrong ones for Vettel’s strategy. This caused a very important delay allowing Jenson Button to take the lead of the race. The errors kept coming for Red Bull as Webber came in immediately afterwards and was delayed even further due to the errors in Vettel’s stop. Not a good day for the Red Bull mechanics, but at least it was better than Hamilton’s mechanics who couldn’t even be bothered to come out for their car!

Getting Jenson in front of Vettel led to a very interesting situation as finally someone was beating Vettel on track and the German was powerless to prevent it. As the top two remained tied in a lap-ime battle, slowly Fernando Alonso crept up on both.

But as mentioned there were many overtakes and incidents up and down the field. Massa made a phenomenal overtake on Nico Rosberg, Rosberg then get stuck behind Glock for a bit (whilst Schumacher beared down on him) and perhaps the man with the most going on was Lewis Hamilton.

It was never going to be easy for Lewis starting ninth on the grid, but wow did he have a frustrating afternoon. This all grew to one moment of recklessness against Felipe Massa halfway through the race. Hamilton went up the inside at the hairpin, but was too far back to make the pass and inevitably hit the Ferrari. This of course was penalised – rightly so – by the stewards. I know Lewis himself feels quite differently about this issue, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was too far back and should have backed out.

That incident more than likely led to Massa hitting the wall in the tunnel and bringing out the safety car, another important turning point. Vettel had re-taken the lead after Button pitted for a second time, but now was in a situation whereby he had both Button and Alonso right behind him on track. Button had to pit once more, putting him behind Alonso, but with the fresher tyres he soon caught up. This left us with something I don’t think I have ever seen at Monaco, a three-way battle for the lead with 14 laps to go.

And it was a battle, this wasn’t a procession, Alonso was all over Vettel and really looked like taking the lead a couple of times. Vettel was at a massive disadvantage, his tyres had lasted since lap 19 and were now massively degrading. Alonso was on fresher tyres, but still nowhere near as new as Button’s. Vettel couldn’t pit, that would lose him everything, he had to fight on track. This was a fantastic battle.

And then something quite unexpected happened. Focusing on the battle between the top three, the cameras had missed the fact that a group of eight cars were also very bunched together and about to be lapped by the leaders. These cars were a combination of lapped cars and drivers competing for positions, they weren’t all going to yield instantly. This was going to be dynamite!

Unfortunately, the formula was a bit too explosive and just as the top three hit the traffic, Algesuari hit Hamilton and Petrov hit both in a pretty big smash. This brought out the safety car and eventually the race was stopped with 6 laps to run.

Luckily for the all, all drivers were OK from the crash and it was decided to restart the race and run the final few laps. It was to be a show-stopping finale, but sadly it was ruined by an FIA regulation. For some reason, unknown to myself or any fan, teams are allowed to change tyres during a race stoppage period. This of course killed the challenge. Vettel was supreme on fresh tyres earlier in the race and would easily be able to hold the two behind. He was effectively given a free pit-stop and saved from losing the race to Alonso and Hamilton.

It’s a shame for the sport and a big insult to it’s fans as we could have been treated to the best battle of the season so far, but instead we were denied the spectacle for a ridiculous regulation. This is one I hope will be looked at by the FIA and changed, not that I expect it to ever be an issue again anyway…

The race was restarted and as predicted, Vettel led easily from the front and won his first Monaco Grand Prix and well done to him, he’s a deserving winner, but I can’t help thinking that he wouldn’t have won if it wasn’t for the quirk of fate that led to the race-stoppage and the chance to change tyres.

Despite the disappointing ending, I was thrilled by the rest of the race. Great to see Alonso actually on pace for the first time this season, hopefully turning it into a three team battle. It was also great to see Button as the lead McLaren after Mr Hamilton had mouthed off earlier in the week that only he was capable of beating Vettel.

Lewis has of course had a dreadful afternoon. As well as his penalty for Massa, he has also been penalised post race for a risky move on Maldonado that knocked the Williams driver out of the race. Admittedly, this 20 second penalty hasn’t effected his final position, but it won’t help confidence. This much was obvious from his outburst after the race. I do like Lewis, but I do think he can complain a bit too much sometimes – put it this way – according to Lewis, it’s never his fault.

So F1 leaves Monaco again and is still producing amazing action on track. But there’s still that niggling problem, no-one can beat Mr Vettel, even it seems if his team makes a bit of a pit-lane cockup!


Twitter Gobbles Up TweetDeck

May 25, 2011

And so the worst kept secret in Social Media has been revealed. Twitter today purchased third-party application ‘Tweetdeck for the princely sum of £25 million. The deal has made the UK developer behind the app, Iain Dodsworth and overnight millionaire, but I do fear what all this may mean for the future of Twitter.

Twitter itself grew pretty slowly in the early days, like pretty much all new web start ups. But they had a clever plan, by opening up their API, other developers were able to make their own applications to access the site. These apps would often be easier than the often clunky website and offer many new features, whilst at the same time spreading the word about Twitter itself. It was an ingenious idea for Twitter to get noticed and add new ways to view the site without having to do a single thing – the third parties developed it all for them.

But then Twitter got big, got some cash and decided it didn’t like all these other developers stealing the limelight from them. Around this time last year, they purchased the popular mobile phone app Tweetie and turned it into the official Twitter app. Then earlier this year, they restricted what developers could do with their apps, removing ads which made the products money and asking them not to mimic the current Twitter apps (basically you can’t use the standard timeline format). The reason cited for this was that these fragmented apps cause confusion for users of the site.

But the thing is, that isn’t the true reason behind the decision. Within the last year, Twitter has started allowing adverts on the web version in the form of promoted Tweets and users. These often do not show up in the apps – something which obviously dents Twitter’s revenue. By buying up the popular apps out there and restricting the others, Twitter is essentially forcing it’s users to use their products and thus brings more money to the business.

You can see why they were interested in Tweetdeck, it’s the second most popular way to access the network after the web-based version. With 20 million downloads, it’s a massive amount of users which Twitter will want for themselves as a form of making more money in the future.

The sad thing is, I can see this wide and far fetching world that is Twitter, becoming a bit too generic. You could argue that the way we access networks isn’t that important, but I disagree. I love the choice of apps available – it gives different users a chance to experience the site as best for them as well as pushing for further innovation in how we access the web itself.

By buying up the apps and reducing access to others, Twitter are destroying the very thing that made them great in a desperate attempt to monetize the site quickly. And it will probably work for them, but at the cost of some of the diversity and innovation that the network brought us.

What happens next to TweetDeck is unknown. It’s unlikely that Twitter will want to have two official apps and so will probably end up integrating the TD design into the official app at some point, with options to add the extra settings used by the so called ‘power users’ in TweetDeck. Or maybe, they’ll leave it as it is (except with promoted tweets more prominent) and let a small piece of Twitter diversity remain.


The Fast Lane – Vettel still in front in Spain… by a whisker

May 22, 2011

F1 2011 is turning out to be a fantastic year for on track action (admittedly a lot of that is down to Pirelli). But despite the hundreds of pitstops and countless overtakes, one man is still dominating and Sebastien Vettel remained number one in today’s Spanish Grand Prix, but only just. 

For only the second time this season, Vettel was out under real pressure throughout the race and had to prove his credentials as a world champion to remain in front. Strange as it may seem for 2011, Vettel didn’t even take the lead until lap 19 of the race, it was a quite unexpected protagonist who had led up until then.

I was more than pleased to see Fernando Alonso find form again in front of his home crowd. More than just form, his first lap was incredible. I sat in awe as Alonso shot past Hamilton and then took advantage of the quarrelling Red Bull’s to sneak up the inside of turn one in what was one of the best starts I have ever seen in Formula One.

Sadly though for Alonso and Ferrari fans everywhere, the start was not truly indicative of the prancing horse’s overall pace. After holding up the top four drivers for 19 laps, (giving us a very bunched up lead pack, which was nice!) Alonso pitted and promptly lost both first and second place to Vettel and Hamlton. As his pace continued to slow through the hard tyre phases, Alonso fell further still to finish in fifth.

The Ferrari is clearly still not up to the pace of the top two and is struggling to remain ‘the best of the rest’ – Alonso is driving the car way beyond it’s ability, but still at least he’s not having the woes of his teammate Massa. A lot of head scratching needs to go on in Maranello.

But unlike most expected, Vettel wasn’t able to dominate from the front, he had a worthy opponent. Lewis Hamilton is quickly emerging as the only likely candidate to steal 2011 from Vettel and he today showed that the same will and determination he possessed when he entered the sport in 2007, still burns strongly.

There seems to be a somewhat peculiar opinion in F1, that it’s not worth pushing a car to the end of the race. Many teams like to conserve their engines and concentrate on holding position up until the line. Not Lewis Hamilton. We watched on the edge of our seats as Lewis closed lap-on-lap on Vettel. Sebastien had the measure of the Brit in the end, but it gave us something F1 has been lacking for a few years, a proper race to the line – great stuff.

The team-mates of both Vettel and Hamilton had very middling days. Button could have no doubt pipped his team-mate for second (or at least helped in the Vettel assault) if it wasn’t for his truly shocking start. But with his smooth driving style, he was able to make the Pirelli’s last (the only competitor who realistically could) and it meant his three-stop strategy worked a treat for a podium position.

The very opposite happened for Mark Webber, who as always got stuck behind the wrong traffic at the wrong time. Still, he didn’t pull out the amazing moves that both Vettel and Hamilton did to keep them in contention through the traffic. Hate to say it, but Mark’s not quite on it anymore.

A quick mention for the Mercedes. It was a solid, but once again disappointing weekend for this team. It was great to see both finish in the points, most notably Michael ahead of Nico after another cracking start. But I’m sure Ross would like to be challenging the front runners and after finishing over 30 seconds behind a struggling Alonso, they’re just not there.

Another team who seem to be on a downward spiral is Renault. They were no-where to be found today despite a decent qually from Petrov on Saturday. Heidfeld did make it through the field to finish eighth, but that was mostly due to clever tyre management. Renault seem to be another team with great promise who aren’t quite hitting the mark.

Tyres were of course the subject of the day again. The new primes turned out not be as much of an issue as originally claimed, but the degradation of the soft tyres is shockingly quick. That’s fine by me, keeps us with some very close racing, unlike this weeks DRS showing which failed to have any significant impact. I’m confident DRS will eventua

lly get ironed out though and maybe next week at Monaco it could be just perfect… or more likely an accident waiting to happen.

Sebastien Vettel is still the man at the front, he deserves to be, but Mr Hamilton is closing in for what is shaping up to be one of the most action packed seasons so far. Let us not forget, we’ve just watched the Spanish Grand Prix, traditionally boring and won from pole-position – not today!


Sunday Rants – Thoughtless Sponsorship

May 22, 2011

Sponsorship has become a way of life in business. Need a quick way to make some money? Get a sponsor on board. Want to make it big in sport? Bring in money with the sponsors. Need to fix up a part of your business, but don’t have the ready cash? There’s a sponsor for that!

On the whole, the concept of sponsorship seems fine. Nothing wrong with a company making a bit of easy money, nothing wrong with another one advertising their product (much). But sponsorship can go to far and can ruin things that were once loved or admired and turn them into nothing more than a corporate billboard.

Sometimes sponsors can ruin the name of something irreparably. Take for example the American Motorsport Champ Cars. That’s what it used to be called, until in 2003 when the sport got into financial difficulties and became ‘Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered By Ford’. Eurgh! Even as an acronym that’s terrible.

I also despise the whole terms of ‘Bridgestone Presents’. Bridgestone don’t present anything. They make tyres and paid a bit of money to the series to get their name up there. But then again, I guess that’s a more American term that I’m not used to and therefore tend to not like.

Another time sponsorship can be bad is for TV shows. This doesn’t count for everything of course, trashy reality shows like X Factor and Big Brother thrive on their sponsors and in a way it sets the tone for that show.I believe the sponsors of such shows also add extra competitions for viewers, so that’s not a bad idea and it beats flippin’ product placement.

But it doesn’t fit with the tone of the show when watching dramas. The current ITV one’s with Aviva are just terrible. You could be watching a thriller, a tearjerker or a period piece when every 15 minutes your thrown into a shot of a man in a lift with a tiger having a fight, or a man stuck up a tree upside down. Oh how funny, I’d better get some life insurance. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t fit with the mood of the show and massively detracts from my suspension of disbelief.

Now we move on to what I see as just pure vandalism. The London Eye became sponsored by EDF energy at the start of this year, a company who’s colour scheme is orange and blue. Almost as soon as this happened, one of the 32 capsules on the eye was painted orange. It’s a complete and utter eyesore to what it one of our countries iconic landmarks. There is no reason to do this, BA never wanted the capsules red and blue when they sponsored the eye, because they knew it would look awful.

It’s unknown at the moment if the whole eye will eventually turn orange or whether this will be a one-off, the owners Merlin are currently fighting Lambeth Council over the decision, but this isn’t the biggest orange problem I have with Merlin at the moment.

Oblivion at Alton Towers was more than a ride. It was the worlds first vertical drop rollercoaster and was one of the most intimidating sights in the theme park world. Even now, 13 years on, it still had quite a daunting psychological feel to it. But sadly that has now all but diminished, because Merlin have decided that this ride should be sponsored by Fanta.

And it wouldn’t be so bad if this had been done tastefully. But it hasn’t. The park has put cardboard billboards all over the ride, plastered in bright orange, with goofy carton characters. The ride has always had a dark menacing feel, which has now been ripped out and replaced with bus-stop style advertising.

Oblivion had one of the most well-know catachphrases for coasters worldwide – ‘Don’t Look Down’. This still remains, but there’s now several more, ‘Bring It On’, ‘Tummy Bubbling Fun’ and the disastrous ‘Looking Down Is the Fun Part’ – talk about contradiction.

Maybe I’m too close to Alton Towers and Oblivion itself (it was the scariest thing I’d ever seen when I was 9), but I can’t stand this. What was a work of art (and if you’d have seen it in it’s prime you would agree) has been turned into a joke. It Wouldn’t be so bad if the sponsor money had gone into sorting out the flaking paint and broken scenery in the area, but it hasn’t. The ride is still run down, just with some posters. The most appalling sponsorship I have ever seen.

And the sad thing about all of this is the fact that sponsorship can be done well. Many sports are sponsored, but just done quietly and subtly like the Barclaycard Premiership. Serious TV shows can be done well, the documentary spots on Channel 4 work just fine. And at Alton Towers, when Spinball was sponsored by Sonic last year, it was welcome as the ride was fully repainted and rethemed, making it look new again.

It goes to show that sponsorship does have a place, rightly so, because when it is done with thought, everyone is happy. But when it is done in a rushed fashion, with no correlation between what is being sponsored and the sponsor themselves, it makes everything look tacky and poor.

Some of you may think everything I’ve just said is not important in the grand scheme of things, fair enough, but if you feel like me, let Alton Towers know what we think by putting your name to the TowersTimes petition.

Enjoy your Sunday 😀


Twitter Vs CTB – The Super-Injunction war begins!

May 20, 2011

It was today announced that Twitter is to be sued by a married sportsman who is currently going by the guise of CTB. I can’t of course reveal the name of said sportsman because of the very reason he is suing the micro-blogging site. He has a super-injunction against naming him after having an affair within his marriage. But the problem is someone has already said his name… or rather tweeted it.

This all happened a few weeks back and was widely reported in papers and on websites. You’re obviously not allowed to break super-injuctions – a rule the press normally stick to, but who’s going to police a random user on Twitter? It was seen back then as just another piece of evidence against the whole society of super-injuctions which seems to have emerged. It was forgotten and the world moved on, knowing a little more about the power the internet is bringing.

But claimant CTB was not happy about this and has got together a team of lawyers who are now planning to sue Twitter and the users who spread the word.

There’s never been a case like this before, its effectively a test and will no doubt set a precedent for how social networks operate in the future. After all, if Twitter are to lose, we could see a massive amount of our online freedom taken away. The site will be forced to censor what is said – a nigh on impossible and in my opinion unnecessary process. A win for CTB could see a setback for the very open internet we are now accessing.

But will CTB be able to sue Twitter. It’s not exactly going to be an easy case, after all, Twitter themselves didn’t say anything illegal, but someone using their service did. Where exactly will the law stand on that, social networks are still a very new technology for some of our archaic laws.

And Twitter are unlikely to give up the information for their users without a fight, the US authorities have tried to make them do that a couple of times without success.

And then there’s the fact that Twitter, despite being worldwide, is a US based company and therefore does not fall under the jurisdiction of the British court system.

I think it’s unlikely that CTB will win and if anything, the whole case could end up backfiring against them. Instead of making an example of a user on Twitter for breaking a super-injuction, it could commence the destruction of the super-injuction system, at least for so-called ‘celebrities’. I certainly hope so as I don’t believe such banning orders should exist for these people, if they’ve done something they shouldn’t, why should they be able to continue their career based on lies?

The next few weeks will be interesting and I’ll be following this case very closely, it could make a big difference to the future of an unrestricted internet which we’ve had for so long.


The Internet movie online boom!

May 18, 2011

Movies are big business, some would say the biggest business. For a while now they’ve been a large part of that interconnected network of computer systems we call the internet, but it seems within the last year they have really broken through.

Data released yesterday by networking company Sandvine reveals that the largest source of internet traffic in the United States is Netflix – the online Movie streaming service. With 22 percent of daily access and a whopping 30 percent of peak-time access, Netflix has firmly established itself as the most used service on the web – outstripping HTTP (the basic internet protocol used for most websites) into third place.

And the amount we’re watching online is even more incredible when you take into account other ‘live’ streaming services online. Sandvine claim that 49.2% of peak online traffic in the US is made up of these ‘real-time entertainment’ services. They predict by the end of this year 55% of our peak traffic will be used access these services.

That’s an incredible amount, when this same study was carried out in 2010 only 29.5% of this traffic was based around online video. And to be fair, you can see why. No-one really wants to watch TV/Movies on a computer and although there were alternatives to watching on your desktop, they weren’t very well advertised.

Fast forward 12 months and we are all very aware of devices such as Apple TV, Google TV, the upgraded TiVo. Both Microsoft and Sony have made deals to get Netflix and other streaming video services on their consoles making it easy to access this entertainment on your HD TV. Add with this the fact that ISP’s seem to be increasing their speeds and data limits and it starts to become a lot more obvious why online video has boomed.

It’s certainly a lot more convenient. When it comes to TV shows, I can now ask BBC iPlayer to download all my favourite shows when they’re ready and I can watch them when I want. It’s starting to make linear TV on the box look a bit, well, dated…

And it is clearly starting to affect TV ratings here in the UK. In fact the opening episode of this years Doctor Who is a great case in point. The episode was shown to a rather disappointing 6.5 million on TV, yet on iPlayer it achieved 1.5 million within 12 days – a new record for iPlayer. I think there will always be a place for linear TV and clearly the internet still has a bit of a way to go to catch up, but its is doing so and at an alarming rate!

I think it’s great how easy it is to now watch movies and TV online in such high quality and it’s certainly great that legal Netflix is using more bandwidth than potentially illegal Bit Torrents. But there’s only so far the ISP’s can go, some are already threatening to throttle the speed of such services in the ongoing Net neutrality debate. As more an more people access this entertainment, our internet (which in the UK with copper cables is already under a lot of stress) will come under a lot more stress and I do wonder if it’ll be able to meet the demand.

If only it really was truly infinite!


Will the cuts cause society to break down?

May 17, 2011

Here in the UK, we’re facing pretty big cuts at the moment – not as bad as some will have you believe, but bad all the same. And with every cut comes a protest, mostly harmless, but every now and again they turn violent and a horror to behold. Everyone wants what matters to them – and we can’t have everything.  The question is, as the cuts worsen, is society slowly breaking down?

Quite a bold question and one that you hope the answer to is no. Surely losing a few services here and there won’t turn us back into apes. But I reference a show I watched last night – ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ on BBC1. If you didn’t see the show, the concept was that a street in Preston became completely independent of the council for 6 weeks. During that period they would replace the service the council normally provides, using the same amount of Council tax they would pay in that period.

The shows point was of course to show how much we rely on the council and the tough decisions they have to make on a daily basis, but it ended up simply showing the darker side of human nature and how deep down, we are all pretty selfish.

Now, obviously this was a 1 hour 40 minute programme showing edited ‘highlights’ of the 6 week experiment. Of course the BBC were going to edit the show in the most sensational way they could and get the arguments. After all,  no one wants to watch a couple of hours of people getting on and sleeping (unless it’s the Big Brother live feed).

But I was genuinely shocked by some of the comments made. One resident suggested evicting a neighbour due to her asking for benefits (which she normally got for being a job seeker). These aren’t people who have just met for a reality show, they have lived on the same street (in some cases) for years. And now they feel threatened they turn.

In fact the benefits battle went on for a while. In some cases I could see the other residents being annoyed at one family taking a large proportion of the money (in fact I agree when it came to providing University subsidy’s, but that’s another matter!), but most of these things were necessary. A 7 year old child being picked up from school, the same child having school dinners. These are things you can’t discriminate against.

Eventually the residents – very reluctantly – did agree to these benefits. But it didn’t end there, people were denied £1 to by a torch (which was needed due to the streetlights being turned off). Others attacked one another for not disposing of waste correctly. Yes it was annoying and incurred the street a fine, but there’s no need to cause so much aggro over it, simply move on and don’t make the same mistake again.

I suppose it also showed how important power is in our lives. We’re all very keen to rage against our ‘leaders’ but when they were taken away without a proper unified replacement, the results were devastating (ironically I suppose it’s a bit of a comment on the coalition!)

Now I missed the second half of the show, hopefully I’ll have a look on iPlayer tonight, but something tells me it didn’t end up happy families. People were planning to move by the end of episode one, change their entire lives after what their neighbours had said to them.

These people were admittedly under a lot of pressure. The show was a case of extremely heightened realism throughout -the tasks were so over-the-top that The Street residents must have seen Nick Robinson as a bald, speccy devil by the end of it all. It’s not every day that a load of rubbish is tipped in your front yard… unless Nick’s about!

But the point remains that several people were cracking under the pressure after a short amount of time. They’d decided that they were for themselves and didn’t care much for the wider community they were in. Some people took their own share of the council tax fund and abstained from the community as a whole. How long would it have taken before all had done that and society in that street would have effectively broken down?

I don’t believe that this will happen. I’ve said several times that this was a ‘for-TV’ production which was edited to look worse than it was. But nevertheless, those actions need to happen to be edited in. It’s scary how nasty and selfish people can be when they think they’ll lose what they need.

It’s often been said that society itself is a very delicate balance and can be tipped at anytime into oblivion. These are all extreme statements, but as we lose more of the things we took for granted, are we headed for an even bleaker future, created not by our Governments, but by ourselves.

I should write something lighter one day… 😀 !

Watch ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ here