Monday 26 September 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of the Yore Part V - San Marino Grand Prix

Alfredo Ferrari, nicknamed Dino was the son of legendary Enzo Ferrari. Right since his childhood Enzo groomed Dino to be his successor and hence sent him to some of the best schools in Europe. Fate has it, Dino suffered from a muscular dystrophy (a sort of muscle degeneration which results in death) and passed away at a very young age of 24 in 1956. He was actively involved in the designing aspects of the Ferrari race engine and his untimely demise cut short of his dream of overseeing the project which he had initiated. In the fifth edition of Lost Track, a racing circuit whose name is a tribute to the pioneers of Ferrari, one who managed to live and sustain his dreams (Enzo Ferrari) and the other (Dino Ferrari) who had all the talent to succeed his father, but was not able to.

In 1980, the Italian Grand Prix arrived at a different location. For the first time, the race was moved out of Monza to another circuit in a town named ‘Imola’. One of the reasons was a direct result of Ronnie Peterson’s death in the opening lap of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Although the race was intact at Monza the following year, a move was decided by F1 authorities and Imola hosted the Italian Grand Prix in 1980. Owing to political manoeuvring and a subsequent compromise resulted in Monza hosting the 1981 Italian Grand Prix and Imola as a separate race in the F1 calendar.
Imola was introduced into the F1 calendar as San Marino GP, named after a nearby municipal state. Since Italian GP was a regular at Monza, the name San Marino was chosen for this 5 km circuit.

The race under the banner of San Marino took off in a grand way with Nelson Piquet (driving Brabham-Ford) winning the race enroute to his first of three championships he won as a driver. The1982 edition had a lot of drama with race marked by a boycott of many teams as part of a political war, unrelated to the event itself, involving the two dominant forces within the sport, the FISA* (Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile) and the FOCA (Formula One Constructor’s Association). This caused the field for this race to be only 14 cars as many of FOCA-aligned teams such as McLaren, Williams, Lotus and Brabham didn’t participate and that left only Ferrari and the Renault cars to be competitive on track.

The race especially the final stages was an epic - Despite the Renaults of René Arnoux and Alain Prost qualifying 1-2, their cars failed in the race leaving Ferrari occupying the top two positions with Gilles Villeneuve leading Didier Pironi. The third-placed Tyrrell of Michele Alboreto was far behind, so Ferrari ordered their drivers to slow down to minimize the risk of mechanical failure or running out of fuel. Villeneuve interpreted this order to mean drivers retaining their positions. However, Didier Pironi thought they were free to race and passed Villeneuve. Villeneuve thinking, Pironi was just trying to bring in some excitement to the dull race, passed Pironi immediately. On the last lap, Villeneuve took it easy and Pironi passed him in the final stages of the lap and took the top step on the podium. Enraged with Pironi’s act, Villeneuve famously vowed – “I will never speak to Pironi again in my life”. So it remained. Still not in talking terms, Villeneuve crashed and died in the next race (Dutch Grand Prix) during qualifying.

This track known for its high-speed corners namely ‘Tamburello’ will be remembered for eternity in Motorsports.  Nelson Piquet had a near death miss when he crashed his Williams in 1987 onto the very corner which would consume the life of the legendary Aryton Senna seven years later.

In fact, the San Marino Grand Prix of 1994 will be known as the darkest race Formula One ever witnessed. It all started with Rubens Barrichello crashing hard into the fence at the Variante Bassa in which he decelerated violently and was knocked unconscious for a few minutes.There was also the death of Roland Ratzenberger at the Villeneuve Corner in the Saturday qualifying session, and the death of Ayrton Senna during the race itself at the 6th-gear Tamburello Corner. Senna in memory of Roland was found with a folded Austrian flag in his pocket, when he was examined after the crash.

As a result, for the 1995 race, the Tamburello and Villeneuve corners were altered from flat-out sweeping bends into slower chicanes, and the Variante Bassa was straightened. It was also the catalyst to changes being made to other circuits, and the sport as a whole, in an attempt to make it safer.

Ever since 1994, the race has been mostly dominated by Michael Schumacher, who has won the same record breaking seven times between 1994 and 2006. In 2003 Michael Schumacher and Ralf Schumacher raced despite the death of their mother just hours before the race. Both Schumachers sported black armbands and no champagne was sprayed on the podium as a mark of respect.

The fierce battles between Alonso and Michael Schumacher with each driver out manoeuvring in successive races (2005 – Alonso and 2006 – Schumacher) were some of the moments, Imola managed to capture in its final two years of hosting San Marino Grand Prix.

Constructors had complained about the poor quality of the facilities at Imola so, after much talk of dropping the San Marino Grand Prix from the Formula One championship, especially since there was another grand prix held in Italy, on 29 August 2006, the race was excluded from the calendar released for the 2007 season, and has not featured since.

Although the passion of Italians for Formula One is unparalleled, we can safely say, Imola won’t be taking part in Formula One under San Marino Grand Prix, and the only possibility is if hosts Italian Grand Prix instead of Monza. In hope to make a comeback into the Formula One calendar, there is a lot of renovation work that’s being handled by the track owners.

Imola which was a catalyst to changes being made to other circuits, and the sport as a whole, in an attempt to make it safer, was initially named only after Dino Ferrari. After the death of Enzo Ferrari in 1988, the circuit was renamed to honour both the Ferraris as ‘Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari’.

*The Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA) was the governing body for motor racing events. The organisation's origins date from 1922, when the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) delegated the organisation of automobile racing to the CSI (Commission Sportive Internationale de la FIA), an autonomous committee that would later become the FISA. A restructuring of the FIA in 1993 led to the disappearance of the FISA, putting motor racing under direct management of the FIA.

Enzo Ferrari (left) with Dino Ferrari 

Sunday 18 September 2011

Anatomy of India-England Series

The game at Cardiff, Wales, was not a regular match for most spectators at the stadium. For the Indian fans, the result was irrelevant; they had gathered in numbers to see and see off history: cheering one last time for Rahul Dravid taking the field for India in coloured gear.
The journey began in 1996 and 15 years on, it was sheer joy to see the legend retire from the shorter version of the game on a high. A fortnight ago, he made his debut in T-20s for India and it was surreal to see him belt three consecutive sixes off Samit Patel. That was his first and last T-20 international.
And after two weeks of ODIs, the curtains finally come down on the one-day career of this cricketer who represented cricket in its original avatar: a gentleman’s game. The tally in the end is impressive beyond doubt — 10,899 runs ODI at an average of 39.16 with 12 centuries — and the parting shot equally sound: a well-compiled 69 to ensure India scored their highest total in the entire English tour.
So, on we come to the trip that looked much, much different two months ago. It was difficult beyond doubt for India, and while the players sweated even amid the chill of English summer, the tour felt scorching and stifling like the dry Delhi heat for the fans.
They were outdone by a resilient English side that has ambitions to be the number one in world cricket. They managed to achieve that in Test cricket, and with their performance in the One Day Internationals, the team showed they are well on track to achieve the same in this version of the game as well.
But England’s real test will come later next month, when they tour India to play five ODIs.
Reams have been written about India’s collective failure on the tour, especially in the Test matches. And the series of injuries did not help matters much. But it might not be down the barrel all the way through. After remaining at the helm of Test cricket for close to two years, the Indian cricket team and its management would have learnt a valuable lesson: never rest on your laurels, and while you are at the top, striving to become better is an ongoing exercise.
As they say, the challenge to sustain at the top is much greater than climbing the peak.
India’s defeat in the ODIs also showed some positives, especially the rise of Ajinkya Rahane, Parthiv Patel’s re-emergence; and R. Vinay Kumar and R. Ashwin also had a decent outing. The re-invented Ravindra Jadeja looks a lot more matured player than his previous avatar, and is a welcome addition to the team.
Without the senior players, it was good to see India performing well and with luck, they could have won a couple of matches. Overall the batting wasn’t as bad when compared to the Test series, but the bowling could certainly be a lot better, for the key to be a successful side is a good bowling attack.
Like in life, every cricketer has ups and downs, and this series must have come as an eye-opener for skipper M.S. Dhoni. It was his first series defeat as a captain in Tests. But for a man who led a side that has toured fairly all over the place, barring Australia, it isn’t such a bad record.
At the start of the tour, India lost Zaheer Khan on the very first day due to injury, and on the last day Munaf Patel left the field with injury.
As India lost yet another match, and England chased down yet another target, eyebrows will, however, be raised about the quality and depth (or lack of it) of Indian bowling. The bowling let down the batsmen in the ODIs, while it was the other way round in the Test series for most part.
If you ask the Indian skipper, he will be the first man to admit that a lot of work needs to be done and a better system of player management needs to be put in place to reclaim the top slot. Which is a good way to look at things: play to your potential, take each game on its own, and leave the panic button for the journalists.
No rash decisions are required; just prioritise and put certain systems in place to manage the workload of players.
I can’ recall the last time India were whitewashed, but Dhoni and Dravid certainly did stand out for India in the ODIs and Tests, respectively, by winning Man of the Series awards. It sums up the lack of support they received. After losing the Tests 4-0, outplayed in the lone T-20, the only redemption was a tied match in the ODI series.
Overall, a very disappointing series and considering India came into the series as the world’s best Test team and ODI world champions, it was sad to see their reputation cut short. But rising from the depths and looking up is what separates boys from men. So pick up the pieces and put the jigsaw right again.
While it undoubtedly is a long road back to the top, all is not lost. The important aspect is to learn the lessons, and learn them well. Even the great Australian team is undergoing a rebuilding process, and has taken some important steps to set things right after the disastrous Ashes campaign at home.
Let us give credit where it’s due: England has played outstanding cricket consistently for some time now.

Monday 5 September 2011

Lost Track: Circuits of Yore IV - Pescara, Italian Grand Prix

Italy is known for its fanatic fan following for football and motorsports. In motorsports, you have stronghold German car manufacturers and English constructors in today’s game. But life in Italy is different and the passion for motorsports is something very different from the rest of Europe.
The story goes back in time when Fascists ruled Italy and under the Mussolini regime, Italy was establishing as a power house of Europe. In 1920’s when football had already created an impact among fanatics of Italy, motorsports was finding its way slowly and steadily across Italy, most notably at Monza.
Pescara, a small province on the Adriatic coast of Italy was no different and it hosted the first automobile race in the year 1924. It was known as the ‘Coppa Acerbo’, named after Tito Acerbo, the brother of Giacomo Acerbo, a prominent fascist politician. The inaugural race was won by the then unknown driver ‘Enzo Ferrari’, who later rose to fame with the launch of his ‘Ferrari’ in the late 1920’s.
In the European race circuits of that era, Coppa Acerbo was considered to be a very prestigious event. The home grown cars were among the winners most notably the Alfa Romeos who dominated the racing scene winning the seven out of the first nine races. Due to the changing regulations, the winners varied from Alfa Romeos and German Silver Arrows of Mercedes until World War II.
The race returned after a re-building process in 1947 with an alteration to the name of the circuit. Since the Fascists no longer ruled Italy, the circuit name was aptly changed to ‘Circuito di Pescara’.
When Formula One World Championships began in 1950, Pescara was not part of the official calendar but that didn’t stop it from being one of the most prestigious races in the racing circles. Well, strange thing do happen in Formula 1 and with the cancellation of Belgium and Dutch GP in 1957 it paved the way to Pescara, and it hosted the longest ever grand prix (26 km circuit length). The race of 1957 till date remains the longest race ever being hosted in the history of Formula One.
Juan Manuel Fangio in his Maserati took the pole position, while the race was won by the English man, Stirling Moss in his Vanwall. In spite of a successful race, the 1957 edition was the only race Pescara ever hosted as a Formula One event.
With Belgium and Dutch GP returning to the calendar and coupled with ever-increasing speeds and the fragile build-quality of most cars of the time, the race was discontinued after the 1961 event. It is also worth noting that, Italy already had a regular circuit in Monza, which hosted Italian GP since the inception of Formula 1 Championships and continues to do so.
With time, Pescara was long forgotten and the only recent connection to Formula One is that, Pescara also happens to be the birth place of the Italian driver, Jarno Trulli.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Who will Watch over the Watchmen?

When it comes to cricketing matters, rarely Sachin Tendulkar has set his foot wrong. He among other Indian cricketers has repeatedly expressed their apprehensions over the inconsistency of DRS technology since its inception. Looks like after the dubious decision made by the third umpire Erasmus to overrule the original decision of Rahul Dravid, the debate will go on.
Now, we have a situation where BCCI has finally managed to get the support in the form of Simon Taufel, who incidentally wasn’t pleased with the technology aids present at the on-going Australia – Srilanka Test Series in Srilanka. He has appealed ICC to centralise the DRS system such that, the flaws can be minimised tremendously.
There have been few suggestions for ICC, who being the body supreme to run cricket in the world to form a separate committee which will overlook the development and implementation of the DRS and other related technical aids. This will be a welcome move and the buck will stop at one point. With the current situation, a lot is expected out of broadcasters to come up with DRS system and like the quality of production varies from one broadcaster to the other, the worrying factor is that of different qualities of DRS system. Surely, I can stop this about this topic at the moment as I am sure there will be a huge discussion on this considering Indian cricket is most affected as a result of this inconsistency.
Coming to the match officials, it is paramount that the third umpire, the match referees and the on-field umpires take decisions based on the evidence that is present and not use their logic, mainly when it comes to taking decisions based on technology reviews. What we saw at Durham; there was no evidence to prove Rahul Dravid was out caught behind. There was no deviation and no mark on the hotspot. But the on-field decision of not out was overruled and out went Rahul Dravid. It wasn’t the first time hotspot went cold. So the question arises, do umpires consider hotspot and other technological aids to be valid or do they have apprehensions themselves?
Secondly, it was a bad decision made. Even though snickometer later suggested there might have been a nick, clearly the third umpire did not have any video evidence to give Dravid out. Yes, it could have been a humanly error but are the umpires who watch over the game seriously accountable such that they avoid taking illogical decisions?
Umpires are an important part of the game donning the non-glamorous role, nevertheless very important in deciding the outcome of a cricket game. Any aid available to assist them is a welcome move. At the moment, there seems to be an ideological chaos in the implementation of the technological aids. This is the time ICC takes a pro-active step in taking control over the technology and starts implementing in first-class cricket for all the necessary iterations and experimentations.
ICC must not create a controversy by leaving an open ended boundary with respect to the kind of technologies that can be used. It is time for ICC to make few decisions for rest of the cricketing fraternity to follow and in parallel establish themselves as the principle controller of the game, especially in matters relating to cricket’s logical evolution.
All great things take time and face opposition. But great things simply do not happen over time unless necessary actions are taken periodically and wholeheartedly.