The Fast Lane – Red Bull back in front, Hamilton back in the wall

August 28, 2011

After a long summer break Formula One finally returned this weekend to a track which has consistently produced enthralling racing. From the first corner pile-up in 1998 to Giancarlo Fisichella’s stunning drive in 2009, Spa-Francorchamps has hosted many of the sports greatest moments and makes the Belgian Grand Prix one of the most anticipated races of any season.

A damp qualifying had produced a few surprises, Alguesuari and Senna had made it to the top ten whereas Schumacher had fail to set a time and started in 24th. But one thing never seems to change – Sebastien Vettel made his way comfortably to pole position.

However, for one Vettel didn’t have the easy start you would expect. A challenger came from right back on the third row. Nico Rosberg placed his car perfectly into La Source to jump from fifth to second. A great run out of Eau Rouge and a massive slipstream later and Rosberg was past Vettel and up into the lead of the race. I feel that Nico has always been a bit of a nearly-man since he entered the sport, so it was great to see such skill, race craft and determination in todays GP to take the German into the lead.

Although not as catastrophic as 1998’s GP, the start of the race did serve up a few incidents. The newly re-signed Mark Webber bogged down at the start for what must be the umpteenth time this season and fell back from third to eight almost immediately. Bruno Senna got a bit too hungry into La Source, outbreaking himself and taking Jaime Alguesuari with him. Disappointing to see the two bright sparks from qualifying have their races ruined so early on. Also getting caught up in it all was Jenson Button who ended up damaging his front wing and lingering around in sub tenth place for most of the race, but more on him later!

Despite making the faster start (as he often does) Massa was clearly the slower of the two Ferrari’s and had to yield to his team-mate Alonso, but not before a fight. That’s right, an actual race between the Ferrari’s! It was fantastic to see these two finally clash in a proper racing situation. Alonso steamed up the inside of Massa, but nearly lost it all as a wheel on the grass forced him wide. But the Spaniard held his line and showed why he is often the favoured driver within the Maranello team.

At the front, Rosberg was struggling with the Mercedes. His car was strong on straight line speed, but lacked in the corners. Despite some great defensive driving, it didn’t take long before Vettel, armed with DRS found a way past. And this was how it was to continue for Rosberg as both Alonso and Hamilton both made their way past easily.

Pit stops came early on, it seemed all were worried about their tyres and the extreme blistering the Pirelli’s were experiencing here. Red Bull were the most cautious, pulling Vettel in very early on. Perhaps there was no need to be though as later in the race, Vettel consistently pulled out blistering lap times, even on the damaged tyres – is there no stopping that man?!

It was shortly after the pit-stops that the ‘most-talked-about’ incident (particularly in the UK) of the day occurred. Hamilton had overtaken Kobayashi on the long DRS straight, but Kamui was fighting back. As the tow reached the following corner, they collided spectacularly sending Hamilton into the barriers with quite a large shunt. Once again his hopes had ended with disaster.

This incident went without any punishment and I can kind of see why. It’s quite had to place the blame. Kobayashi did start turning into the corner – on the outside – before Hamilton. However, Hamilton was moving over to the left to take his line. I don’t think Lewis had realised Kamui was as close to him as he was and was taking his line as normal instead of giving the Japanese driver room. This misunderstanding and the overconfidence of Kamui led to the incident. It’s unfortunate, but I think both drivers were slightly to blame. Hamilton obviously agrees as he has apologised to Kamui on Twitter earlier this evening. It’s pleasing to see how gracious Lewis is in defeat considering his more hot-headed opinions earlier in the season.

Unfortunately Lewis was gone, but the race went on. Through good strategy and some strong laps, Mark Webber found himself back in contention towards the end of the race. By lap 30, the Australian had caught and overtaken Alonso, who had now clearly lost Vettel several seconds down the road from him. Things were starting to look good for a Red Bull one-two.

But then, enter Jenson Button! From the middle of the race to the chequered flag, the last remaining McLaren came alive and started picking off his prey. With some stunning laps, a patient head and a little bit of DRS, Button blasted through the field and managed to dive past the faltering Ferrari of Alonso by lap 42. Suddenly he was in contention, especially bearing in mind he had already used the harder compound tyres and was now on the faster soft tyres until the end.

However, Vettel and Webber found something extra on the harder tyres and were comfortably able to hold the lead of the race. Alonso was never able to mount another fight, the harder tyres worked very poorly on the Ferrari and simply saw the Spaniard stuck in fourth. Just down the road from him we saw our second inter-team fight of the day. Michael Schumacher had managed to move from 24th on the grid to 6th on the track and was giving his team-mate quite a lot of trouble. Team radio confirmed that the drivers were free to race and despite great defending from Rosberg, Schumacher made his way past, again with DRS to take fifth. Surely one of the best drives of Schumacher’s second career and a sign that perhaps things are slowly turning around for the Mercedes team.

I’ve mentioned DRS a lot today and that’s because I feel it’s been a big feature. I’ve actually defended it a lot this season, but I think today it was a step too far. The die is to get drivers side-by-side by the corner, yet today we consistently saw drivers several car lengths ahead by the time they reached the corner. It’s disappointing to see the possibility of proper racing taken away by this device, the driver in front is a sitting duck frequently. Although I like the idea, I think a lot of aspects of DRS needs to be rethought and I really hope it will be for next year.

And that was the Belgian GP 2011, not a vintage year but still a top race. Red Bull have made it back to the top step of the podium after only three races off it. And lets face it, they do have this championship wrapped up, no-one will beat their constructors points and I can’t see anyone topping Vettel. They are a class act and that should be celebrated, but it also makes it all the more fun to see someone beat them. Maybe next neither Webber or Vettel will make the podium, or maybe I should stop hoping!

My Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

August 15, 2011

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, it will have been hard to avoid the fact that I spent all of last week up in Edinburgh to experience the Fringe Festival for the first time ever. Now I’m back and have had time to gather my thoughts on an amazong week, here’s what I thought of 2011’s festival.

The first thing to mention is the sheer scale of the festival itself. It’s the largest arts festival in the entire world and there truly is something for everyone. My group spent most of the time enjoying the comedy on offer, but there’s so much more including dance, theatre, music, children’s shows, sensory experiences and the downright weird. With almost 300 venues, the festival spans the whole city and there’s an amazing atmosphere on every street (and admittedly quite a lot of crude graffiti…)

Onto the shows then, the main part. On the whole, I was very impressed with the quality of them with really only one dud show out of the 30 I saw during the week. The prices also come in very competitively, averaging at around £7/£8 per show. That’s not bad for an hour long performance (many of which are available on 2 for 1 offers at certain times too). And if that’s still too much for you, there’s around 600 free shows ready to entice you over the festival.

The venues differ from show-to-show. Some performances were in grand halls as you are perhaps accustomed to, whereas others are in pubs or venues no bigger than my front room. This really adds to the special feeling of the Fringe, the idea of cramming as many people in as possible to experience as much entertainment as possible. There’s a very friendly and buoyant spirit to the whole production (even from those who have to work through the night to make it happen).

Although you’ll see several big names performing at the Fringe (the likes of Rich Hall, Dave Gorman, Al Murray, Richard Herring, Milton Jones, Sarah Millican, Stewart Lee and ‘Barry and Stuart’ all have shows this year) the Fringe is really more about discovering new acts. I hadn’t heard of the majority of performers I saw, but I really enjoyed their performance and appreciated the chance to see this talent which surely deserves to be nurtured and moved up to bigger places.

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed all (but one) of the shows I saw, but I do of course have my highlights and here they are…

ShowStopper – As a fan of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’, I was thrilled to see so much improv at the festival. ShowStopper is and improvised musical of epic proportions. The audience give suggestions to story themes/titles/song styles at the start and then the ensemble cast of around 10 bring it to life in a hilarious fashion. One of the best improve shows I have ever seen, they really knew how to do it.

Axis of Awesome – Move over Flight of the Conchords, these Aussies know how to rock, parody style! You may have heard of them due their rather large YouTube following, but the live show was extremely funny and very much a headbanger. Great show.

Michael Winslow – This is the guy from Police Academy, Sgt Motor Mouth! His stand up is essentially full of sound effects, all entirely made by the mans voice. I could hardly believe my ears as Winslow dubbed an entire action clip of Star Wars with his own sound effects. Oh and don’t visit the toilet during the show, Winslow has a great mock for that!

Richard Herring – Richard Herring has been a well known comedian for a while, but never quite seems to reach the big time, which is a shame because he was arguably the best ‘traditional’ standup show I saw. With his twisted sense of humour and efforts to offend, he’s not for all, but is a very entertaining comedian and has a great Fringe show.

Idiots of Ants – Sketch was also very well represented at the Fringe, but I would say my favourite sketch group was Idiots of Ants. Their performance seemed to take into account their surroundings the best, involving the audience and making use of the fact this wasn’t TV and was live. Sketch comedy is hard to do live (look at how many takes the pros need on TV) and these guys seemed to pitch it just right. They should have their own TV sketch series (would beat so many others!)

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Not strictly part of the Fringe, but still worth doing. With the backdrop of the dazzlingly illuminated Edinburgh castle, the tattoo parades military bands as well as adding some humour and a fair bit of assailing. Oh and of course some pretty special fireworks at the end. It rained for the whole two-hours that I saw the Tattoo, yet I would still heartily recommend it to anyone, brilliant experience.

There are several others worthy of mention – Mitch Benn, WitTank, Thom Tuck, Jimeoin, Tiffany Stevenson, School of Night, Shakespeare for Breakfast, Dave Callan – all fantastic laughs.

I did get to see a bit of Edinburgh while I was there in between the many shows. The city is very different to most in the UK, very hilly and traditional with several interesting looking buildings. It’s traditionally Scottish and that was great to see (especially as I’d never even visited the country before). Make sure you visit the newly refurbished museum and the castle while there, both are fascinating experiences.

And that brings me to the end of this whistle stop guide. There’s so much more to Edinburgh than what I have mentioned and several more notable performers. I would recommend the festival to anyone, because it really is for anyone, more so than any other festival I know of. Such as fantastic mix, celebrating everything thats great about the world of arts and entertainment – what more could you ask for?

Long live the Fringe!

Off to the Fringe!

August 5, 2011

As you read this, I should be in a car on my way down to London ready to catch my train up to Edinburgh tomorrow. Why? Because I’m off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I can’t wait.

I’ve never been to the Fringe before, but obviously have heard an awful lot about it. There should be established comedians galore alongside less well known up-and-coming performer, cabaret, carnival, music, atmosphere and a small thing called the Edinburgh tattoo. I don’t know how I’m going to take it all in during the short week that I’m visiting!

Highlights I’m hoping to see from this years line-up include Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation, Rich Hall’s Hoe Down, Al Murray’s Compete For The Meat and Milton Jones. Of course I’m hoping that when I come back after seeing the shows next week, I’ll also be convinced that I’ve seen the next big thing and I suppose that’s part of the wonder of this festival – I don’t really know what I’m going to see, but I’m sure it will delight, entertain and confuse in equal measures. The thing I’m looking for above all else is discovering new comedy, isn’t that what this whole thing is about.

Amongst the comedy, face stuffing and gratuitous drinking (which I’m a tad worried about, not drunk too much since Uni!) I’m also hoping to take in some of the sights. I’ve never been to Edinburgh – not even Scotland –  and everyone I’ve told (honestly, every single person) has waxed lyrical about how beautiful it is and what great sights there are to see. I’m hoping to capture a load of them on my camera!

And of course, I’ll be sharing the festival with everyone on the web. I’m planning on tweeting quite a bit during my week, so do follow @chrisbheath for the latest from the fest (and do join in with the big conversation). As well as that, I’m hoping I can share a blog post or two with you here on the RHP (mobile internet permitting!), so do keep checking back for updates.

And so I sit in this car (I’m not driving, in fact I’m not even writing – this was done yesterday!) I can hardly wait for tomorrow when I start my first ever Edinburgh Festival experience, one I’m hoping will stay with me for many years to come… for good reasons of course!