The Fast Lane – Vettel helps Red Bull seal the deal in a lacklustre Korean GP

October 16, 2011

Only a week after Sebastien Vettel wrapped up the 2011 Formula One World Championship, the circus reconvened in Korea. The quick turnaround no doubt took it’s toll on the teams, but they were all still hungry with a constructors championship and second in the drivers standings all up for grabs – race on!

It was almost like seeing the Korean track for the first time this weekend. A year ago the entire weekend was clouded out by a phenomenal amount of rain, many didn’t make the chequered flag. But despite a slight hiccup in practice, the weather remained dry for today’s race… I almost wish it hadn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there was some good racing through the field today – but the Grand Prix just seemed to me to be very lacking. The rather dull colour of the Korean tracks walls probably didn’t help, but I just felt that such a promising race just didn’t deliver.

It was an exciting race in prospect with Lewis Hamilton (albeit very downhearted) becoming the first non- Red Bull driver to claim pole position this year – what an incredible statistic. This however didn’t last long. Many have previously criticised Vettel as being a fast driver, but not a racer. I think this no longer applies as Vettel dispatched of Hamilton quickly and clinically before the end of the first lap. There’s no doubt it was a blitzing move from Vettel, but I can’t help thinking there was a groan around the world as we realised that once again this race was to be dominated by one man until the finish.

Hamilton was able to stay with the Red Bull for the majority of the race, but it was clear that the McLaren driver was really having to push to stay in contention whilst Vettel had plenty in reserve up front. This was obvious from the fact that Vettel always stayed just over a second in front, denying Hamilton that crucial DRS activation. Clever and frustrating driving from the champ.

Instead of battling for the lead, Hamilton soon had to switch to a defensive strategy to keep second place. Mark Webber had been closing on Lewis for the entire race and after the second pitstop came his chance. This was without doubt the highlight of the race. Both Webber and Hamilton raced wheel to wheel round the entire lap, each diving in front of each other only to lose it on the next corner. They showed how it can and should be done, each giving the other plenty of room without compromising their own race.

In the end it was Lewis who came out the better and remained in second. Some will argue that Lewis was saved by the DRS which he used to breeze straight back past Webber in the first instance, but lets not forget that Webber was able to use DRS on every lap after and still coundn’t re-pass Hamilton. Perhaps we have found Red Bull’s only weakness (just a little too late!).

Behind the Hamilton/Webber battle was Jenson Button who really failed to come alive today. After a shocking start, Button found himself battling with Rosberg as he rejoined the race after his first pit stop. Button came down the pit lane behind Rosberg but overtook the German by crossing the white line at the pit exit. This struck me as very strange as normally drivers are not allowed to cross this line and receive a penalty for it, yet here in Korea it seemed to go unnoticed as everyone tried it.

Once again, I think the FIA need to sort their rules out and decide what you can and can’t do as I believe Rosberg was only following the line he thought you were supposed to take out of the pits. Mind you, the pit exit itself is a complete shambles, allowing for less run off than a motorway entrance and nearly causing a collision between Michael Schumacher and Feranando Alonso in the middle of the race.

Of course, Michael didn’t have to wait long before he actually did have a collision. Soon after the nearly-incident with Alonso, Schumacher was whacked into from the side by Vitaly Petrov who had completely missed his braking zone. This was due to him racing to the limit with Alonso (who also missed his braking zone, but to a lesser effect) and clearly not spotting Schumacher in front. Another unfortunate exit for the German, but I was most worried Michael was ill as he told Lee McKenzie that other incidents between himself and Petrov were his own fault. Schumacher, admit a mistake – what?!

Fernando Alonso did not fall out of the race, but he may as well have done. The Spaniard had a horribly average Sunday stuck behind his teammate Felipe Massa. I think it was clear that Alonso could have been quicker, but Massa defended well and kept him behind – clearly both have been told they can race now. When Alonso did get some clear air, he did start to cruise up to Button but curiously said over the radio that he had ‘given up’. A very strange attitude from a racing driver and was most likely sour grapes from being stuck behind Massa. But I’m afraid the only thing I have to say to Alonso is, it’s a race – if you want to pass Massa, overtake him. Don’t expect to be given it!

Around 10 seconds ahead of the rest, Sebastien Vettel (remember him!) came through to win the race on lap 55 – sealing the constructors championship for Red Bull – and was just as excited as he has been all season. But I’m afraid I wasn’t. Perhaps we’ve been treated by such an exciting F1 of late that I forgot how bad the sport once was (and this was nowhere near as bad as the mid-2000’s) but I did just find todays race dull. Maybe it’s the track, maybe it’s the drivers attitudes, maybe it’s just me – but I’m hoping for a much more exciting race when we head to India in two weeks time.

And as a quick note, I’m afraid there will be no Fast Lane post from me for the Indian Grand Prix (well at least not on Sunday) as I’ll be otherwise engaged during the race. Never fear though, ‘The Fast Lane’ and hopefully a more upbeat writer will return for the 13th November for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix!


The Fast Lane – Vettel loses the battle, but wins the war in Suzuka

October 9, 2011

After a dominant season, Sebastien Vettel came to to Japan needing only one point to secure the 2011 Formula One World Championship. But he was determined that he was not playing the percentages game and instead wanted the glory of another race victory. That became obvious when he stormed to pole position despite the Red Bull’s being consistently slower than the McLaren’s throughout practice.

So this morning we were a situation we’re all very familiar with, Vettel on pole ready to win another race easily from the front. But things didn’t exactly go to plan.

A poor getaway saw Vettel on the backfoot from the start with second place man Jenson Button (the only one who could still take the title from Seb) drawing alongside the Red Bull. Vettel did the only thing he could and squeezed Button’s McLaren to the edge of the track.

This is an incident I’m sure will be debated long into tonight. Button was clearly still angry after the race, confronting Vettel before the podium. The move was very aggressive and Vettel did take every inch of room he could, but in my opinion was just within his rights at a race start. By the time Vettel had moved fully over, Button had lost momentum and had only his front wheels alongside the German. Button moved onto the grass, but I think there was still just enough room on track. Button’s move was a precaution and ultimately cost him second place, but I do think he could have just stayed on track. Vettel was extremely aggressive, but just stayed within the rules of the FIA. It was right that no penalty was issued.

This move allowed Vettel to open up and early lead, with his competitors all rearranging themselves behind. Massa let the fast Alonso through (for about the twentieth time!) and Hamilton moved out of the way of Button after a puncture. With the faster cars now chasing him, Vettel was forced to pit due to tyre degredation on lap 9.

The race entered a stage of status quo at this point, Button was getting slightly closer to Vettel and Alonso continued to push. The gaps were coming down, but with still plenty of time between each car there was no real on track action to be had up front.

Things changed again on laps 19 and 20 when a combination of an average pit stop and outlap for Vettel and a supreme one for Button reversed the positions in the pits. Button took the lead of the race – now things got interesting. Vettel was on the backfoot again, if Button won and he failed to score due to an accident, the championship would remain open for another week.

Rather than stay out of trouble and protect his point, Vettel decided that he was still going for glory and harried Button for several laps. I do think it is great to see a racer so dedicated that they still put this effort in, even when it’s not necessary. Vettel helped to give us a very exciting battle – even if most of the world were willing him to make a mistake!

Further back, two more drivers were getting into trouble. Hamilton and Massa seem to like getting so close they touch this season and the same thing happened again today. Massa few down the outside of Hamilton coming into the final chicane. Lewis – not noticing the Ferrari – took his usual line and the two collided, all be it in a rather minor way. It’s tough to place blame here, Lewis clearly didn’t see Felipe and drove straight into him, but despite racing, perhaps Felipe should have known it was never going to work around the outiside. I personally would say Hamilton again was sadly more in the wrong the Stewards decided not to give a penalty today to the most penalised driver of the season!

This incident caused a small amount of debris and the safety car was deployed. After a four lap period, Jenson backed the pack up (to the extreme) and restarted the race. He was able to absorb some more pressure from Vettel who was now suffering with his tryes again and dropped back from the Brit.

Vettel pitted again, but must have been surprised a few laps later when Fernando Alonso emerged out of the pit lane in front of him. Unseen by most, Alonso had been on quite a charge and has mustered enough time to leapfrog the reigning world champion.

This battle would continue until near the end of the race. Vettel pressured Alonso for several laps, but was asked by the team to stop racing and  back off for the final five. This of course was the only sensible thing to do, win the championship rather than risk it with Alonso.

But Fernando wasn’t quite finished yet as he was able to close to just under a second behind race leader Button. Jenson however stamped his authority on the race by setting some new fastest laps to keep the Ferrari at bay.

And so Jenson Button came through to take his third victory of the season, but all eyes were on a very emotional Sebastien Vettel who has driven a Schumacher-esque season to win his second world title. If we’re honest, we’ve known this for a very long time, but that makes it none the less incredible – a class act right from the Australian GP.

Interestingly, for all the anoraks out there, we had quite an interesting top six with all five of the grids world champions in it (That’s right, Schumacher was best of the rest today!) and of course, Mark Webber in 4th…

So the drivers championship is over, but not the season. I predict a very close and hard fought fight for second place – Button, Alonso and Hamilton really have very little to choose between them and whose to say that Webber and Massa won’t mix things up as well. And now Vettel has nothing to lose, he could be even more daring and racier than ever before… oh great!

The Facebook changes – especially Timelines – are great!

October 8, 2011

I’ve got a bit bored of Facebook recently. The site seemed to have lost it’s way a bit. The simple idea of sharing photos and interacting with your friends had been replaced with ‘Like’ buttons and poor quality games. I just found my entire newsfeed to be clogged up with this rubbish I had no interest and thus found myself driven away from the site.

Then a few weeks ago, I saw a bit of an uproar from users of the site (ironically on Twitter) due to some new updates. I curiously investigated and I have to say I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

Basically the news feed appears to have changed so that ‘top news’ is now more prominent than recent news. This was previously split into two different feeds and you could choose which you looked at – which was perhaps for many a better way of presenting it. However, all your news is still there, it’s just that the top news is now more prominent. For me this can actually be very helpful as I only check Facebook once or twice a day. I can now pick up on top stories shared on the site alot quicker. I also like how Facebook groups stories together now (on thursday it told me how many of my friends had shared stories about Steve Jobs). Things like this seem to work well so far and can be very handy.

Photos are now displayed in a much more engaging way, giving you a better overview of what you’ll see in the album. In the new sidebar – which is a bit ugly but ultimately practical – your live updates and Facebook chat are now displayed much clearer and available on every page (instead of just the newsfeed). Overall the whole news feed experience seems to be more media rich, but crucially with much less of the clutter it used to have.

So after quite liking the changes, I decided to look a bit deeper at Facebook’s latest project – timelines. This is the new name for your profile – or wall – something which has stayed fairly static on Facebook with only a few minor changes down the years. Timelines changes that quite radically. At present it’s only available as a developer beta, but it’s quite easy to activate if you want to have a look.

The first thing that will strike you about Facebook timelines is just how much the site has on you. By activating the new look profile, Facebook will generate a complete timeline of your life based on the information the site has on you. It can be quite interesting looking at the things it picks up – things such as my sisters birth, when I started and left certain jobs and various events I have attended were all listed on the line.

Mark Zuckerberg was very passionate  that timelines could and should tell the story of your life, but it is also a stark reminder that everything you put on Facebook is still there and can always be dug up. Be careful what you make public.

The layout of timelines will probably throw some and annoy many more. Your timeline goes vertically down the page with stories appearing to the left and right in chronological order. I quite like this system, I find it easier to see what is going on quickly without having to scroll for a while. You also have complete control over what is shown on your timeline, you can remove stories or make them bigger and more prominent for all to see (this may also affect top stories in the newsfeed).

Profile pictures have also changed – you now get two. This might sound strange at first, but actually works very well. Your traditional profile pic, the one that will be shown all over Facebook (and nowadays the web) is shown smaller than it currently is, but still in roughly the same place. Just behind it is a much wider picture, a place for you to put a group shot, or a landscape of your holiday, or in my case me and Dragon Khan at PortAventura! I really like this new ‘headline’ pic. It’s a great way to showcase a new picture you love without ruining the profile pic thumbnail.

In fact I actually love the whole interface. It makes it easier to see your most up to date activity and also look back through the archives. You easily add new info about your life, past or present (which is something I can see a lot of Facebook addicts doing!) by clicking on the timeline and writing. General info about you and your likes, places and friends is stored at the top under your headline pic in a small tidy space. This leaves the rest of your profile open to share whatever you want with your friends.

And this is what I love most about Timelines. It’s a new interface with a lot in it, but it’s not cluttered at all. It’s super easy to use and looks fantastic (in fact makes a lot of competitors look dated). And it finally focuses on what made Facebook great, sharing your life with your friends online. No silly apps or likes ruining the place, just you and your connections all in one place.

Facebook Timelines is expected to roll out before the end of the year and I’m sure there will be another swarm of complaints heading Zuckerberg’s way. But to those people I ask you just to try the new system, get used to it, give it at least a week. I’m pretty certain you’ll actually agree that Facebook are onto another winner with this one. And even if you don’t, lets be honest, you’re not going to leave FB anyway!


Thank You Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011

I hardly need to mention the sad news we woke up to this morning. The internet has already widely publicised the passing away of Steve Jobs. And although it is sad that such an inspirational personality has left us before their time, now is not the time to mourn Steve, but to celebrate the wonders he has brought to our world.

There’s no doubt that nearly every person living in the western world has something to thank Steve Jobs for. You may have never brought an Apple product yet still benefitted from the innovations Steve brought to the world. It was Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Apple that were the original driving force behind bringing computers from clunky devices that filled a room to the work and entertainment device we all know today. There’s no doubt others would have got there eventually, but Apple were the catalyst under the vision of Jobs.

Since then the software available on Mac’s has changed the industry with competitors such as Microsoft implementing many ideas from OS X into their own OS’s.

Several years later and Jobs and Apple revolutionised another industry, releasing the iPod in 2001. Nowadays that’s a household name with almost 300 million of the units sold since release. Despite not being the first, the iPod was certainly the best MP3 player available and made the idea popular. Combining that with the iTunes store and people were starting to buy music legally again – helping to save an industry that was struggling with piracy. The iPod also helped develop the MP3 player industry as a whole, would companies such as Microsoft and Sony have innovated the way they did if not competing with Jobs’ iPod?

In 2007 came the invention that Steve will no doubt be most remembered for. The iPhone has completely revolutionised not just the phone industry, but the entire way we view and interact with technology. Touchscreens had been done before, but this one was different, it was actually useable with your fingers without problem and therefore practical. Combine that with iOS, one of the most intuitive pieces of software ever created and you can see why the iPhone changed the world. Competitors such as Android wouldn’t be anywhere near as far down the line without Apple showing them how it was done first.

This success was sealed last year when Steve Jobs proudly revealed the iPad, the device that has alone sparked the tablet market back into life.

It could be argued that there is a team of people making these products, not just Steve and that of course would be true. But Steve’s vision has been woven into every single one, the idea of making technology more accessible and simple yet at the same time very very clever has always been his way forward – products which make the world an easier place.

And it was Steve’s enthusiasm for everything he created which set him apart from his peers. Even when he was on medical leave earlier this year, Steve made it back on stage for both the iPad 2 and iCloud reveals – he really cared about these products and wanted to be the one who revealed them to the world.

Steve was also renowned as hard task master. He was a man never satisfied with second best – always striving to excellence and motivating his staff to create the best products they possibly could. It was with this enthusiasm and dedication that he was able to take Apple to the top of the tech industry.

And it wasn’t just Apple that Steve was responsible for. Who could forget ‘Toy Story’, surely one of if not the greatest animated film of all time. It wouldn’t have happened if not for Steve Jobs. He was the man who believed in the studio, who helped to get them the deal with Disney, whose money got the film to a cinema release. All fans of Pixar films owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Jobs too.

I’ve only touched on the legacy that Steve Jobs leaves behind today. How much he will be missed is obvious from the incredible outpouring we have seen today from the like of Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Bob Iger and Eric Schmidt amongst others. Several fans have created memorials outside Apple stores to Steve.

Many have said that Steve is the Henry Ford of our time and I think I’d agree with that. He was the leading light of the tech industry, always innovating, always looking for how to improve and always hugely excited about everything he did.

ThankYou Steve for all you brought to us, may you rest in peace.

Written on my Apple MacBook and iPhone


iPhone 4S makes it’s entrance, but no sign of the iPhone 5

October 4, 2011

When Apple call a press conference, it always garners a disproportionate amount of coverage and today was no different (with tech blogs literally exploding under demand) as the company finally lifted the lid on it’s iPhone 4S.

The 4S is the successor of last years iPhone 4, the best selling Smartphone to date –  but surprisingly it isn’t much more than an incremental upgrade. When you look at the new hardware, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it as the original iPhone 4. Apple themselves have said that the exterior is pretty much identical to the 4, but the inside is quite different.

What they mean by that is that the iPhone 4S will sport a new A5 processor (the same as in the iPad 2) boast CU speeds of double it’s predecessor and graphical speeds of up to 7 times faster than the iPhone 4. And to be fair, the new processor does look impressive in action, a demo of Infinity Blade 2 ran smoothly in real time on the device with stunning visuals – although I’m sure draining the battery rather rapidly. While were on the battey, Apple claim that has been improved, but only marginally (it sounded about the same as the iPhone 4 to me with 8 hours 3G talktime).

Its clear that Apple have targeted the compact camera market (the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera model used on Flickr) and have made a very concerted effort to continue this with their new releases. As well as iOS5’s camera upgrades revealed in June the 4S has a completely rebuilt camera. That’s a 8MP resolution as opposed to iPhone 4’s 5 and a completely redesigned sensor designed to let in more light and improve sharpness. Speed has also been improved with Apple claiming the camera can launch within 1.1 seconds and have a gap between photos of no more than 0.5 seconds – a big improvement over the oft clunky iOS4 camera app.

Video is also high on Apple’s agenda. The 4S will shoot 1080p HD and includes real time video stabilisation. This is a biggie in my opinion (it’s amazing how unsteady those iPhone videos can be) and with Apple’s experience in this area with Final Cut, I expect a pretty near perfect experience from this one.

If the iPhone 4 had any issues with it’s design, it was that antenna which could drop calls when held in a certain way. Well guess what -Apple have solved it (only 15 months too late!). With new antenna switching software, the phone can work out which side your holding and switch to a different part of the antenna. Apple did say this was to help combat if the user is ‘holding it the wrong way’. I might have known it was all our fault!

It wasn’t all iPhone 4S at the press event. It was revealed that the iPhone 4 and 3GS would continue to be sold at a lower price. The 3GS will be provided for free with a contract – a big pull for the lower budget market.

We also learned that the heavily documented iOS5 will finally launch in eight days time on October 12th alongside Apple’s highly anticipated iCloud. iOS5 will be on the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, but it’s unclear if it will run on the iPhone 3GS. iCloud will be available across all iOS5 devices and OS X Lion from launch with iTunes match (the system which will match your entire iTunes library in the cloud) launching in late October.

There was also a few moments dedicated to iPods (the former Apple stronghold). The iPod nano will be refreshed with some nifty new features including an exercise app which will track your runs. iPod touch gets a new 64GB model and iPod shuffle will remain at 2GB. But sadly, it seems that the iPod classics time has finally come after there was no mention during the event.

The final and biggest announcement was Apple’s new assistant – Siri. I say new, but of course American readers have been enjoying a form of Siri on their iPhone 4’s for over a year (it was available through the app store, but never released worldwide).

Siri is voice recognition software baked into the operating system. You can ask your iPhone questions, what’s the weather like?, How are the stocks doing? Where am I? Siri will then respond, trying to mimic a human conversation and providing you with the info your after.

What’s impressive is quite how much Siri understands. If you ask for example, ‘who was the first man on the moon?’, Siri will get that info. You can then continue that conversation by saying, ‘how old is he?’ Siri will know you mean Neil Armstrong without you saying his name again. It’s a very intelligent piece of software and if it works like Apple claim, it could be revolutionary.

Siri will also send texts, set up meetings, book restaurants, set reminders, set your alarm (just by saying wake me up at…) and can of course do dictation. It is the best speech recognition software I have seen, but I am wary of technology this week. After experimenting with friends Android devices with similar tech, the results were…very hit and miss. It will be interesting to see how much Siri can refine this.

Siri will launch with the iPhone 4S on October 14th – which is a launch in the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan – and will be available in 16GB, 32GB or 64GB models. Oh and it’s also available in white!

But where was the iPhone 5, the device so many were expecting tonight. In all honesty, I’m not too surprised at the lack of it, we’ve been prepared for a small increment for a while. Although it would be good to see Apple drive the market with a new iPhone, they don’t really need to and with the 4S are clearly targeting existing 3GS owners looking for an upgrade. I do doubt that many iPhone 4 owners will upgrade, I for one will certainly be holding out for an iPhone 5 next year.

But despite the 4S being enough of an announcement, the whole conference did seem a little low key for Apple. It was Tim Cook’s first gig in charge and maybe this is why things were toned down, but something seemed to be missing from tonight – that spark of ebergy and excitement Apple provide with their products was missing. And of course we were all missing a certain Mr Jobs, no-one could launch a product like Steve…