Sunday 31 May 2015


Michael Schumacher was one of the three world champions to crash the wall, thereby got its name "Wall of the champions"
Hitting the wall! There is a huge difference using that term in running and motor racing. While it is a case of mental block in running and have all the time to get out of it, which is contrary to what happens in motor racing. In recent times, Formula One has done away with heavy banked roads, and thereby there is a decline in number of cars hitting the wall. However, there are tracks like the one in Montreal, where the 'wall' at the end of turn 13 has gained reputation for being a 'breaker' if a car hits it. Since 1978, a lot of cars have hit the wall, cars were removed or safely parked and race moved on. However, in 1999, 'the wall' got all the attention.

On that day, the wall which had 'Bievenue au Québec' (Welcome to Quebec) written on it had four hits, three of them driven by the world champions and gave birth to the term 'Wall of the champions'.

13 June 1999, sixth round of F1, Canadian Grand Prix. Michael Schumacher took his first pole position of the 1999 season. That race had four world champions - Mika Hakkinen (1999), Damon Hill (1996), Jacques Villeneuve (1997) and two-time world champion Michael Schumacher (1994 &1995). It will go down as one of the unique races in the history of Canadian Grand Prix as all four drivers made headlines though only one of them ended up finishing the race.

Prior to the 1999 race, the wall at the end of the final chicane and located opposite to the entry of the pit-lane was just another part of the track. Each year, one saw many drivers shaving their cars to the wall, just enough to avoid a crash. However, many drivers in a bid to make up time or extend a lead have crashed owing to imbalance of the car after exiting the final chicane.

The race was an attrition and at the end of it, it had more number of retirements (12) than the finishers (10). On the very first lap, there were three casualties - Alexander Wurz retired due to transmission problems while Jean Alesi and Jarno Trulli collided with each other and took each other out of the race. Safety car!

Lap three, the first of the wall hitters, Ricardo Zonta, got his BAR-Supertec sideways in an awkward position which caused him to hit the wall. Zonta's car was parked next to the wall and this made the stewards to call the safety car back on the track.

The race resumed its normalcy on lap seven and there was no drama up until lap fourteen when the first of the three world champions, Damon Hill spun-off the track and hit the wall. He was not having a good season with Jordan and his woes continued as he had his third retirement out of six races. When asked about it, Hill replied - "Basically, I lost the control of the car and I hit it. There is nothing more to it, really!".

Then came the surprise, Michael Schumacher having led the race was beginning to up his pace in order to build a suitable gap as he was nearing his pit stop window. Each lap, from lap 25 was three-tenths faster than Hakkinen and with each lap, he was pushing his Ferrari really hard. On lap 29, just few metres away from starting the next lap, bang!. Schumacher lost control of his car coming out of the chicane and he was off the racing line, thereby the car was on the dirty part of the circuit, which is always slippery. The car slewed and before he could react, the car had hit the wall which wiped out his front and rear suspension. He shook his fists in frustration as he knew, he had thrown away this race! - "I lost control of the car because I went off the racing line and got on the dirt and ended up in the wall. This was clearly my mistake. I usually make one mistake a year. I hope that this incident was the last for the season".

Now that Schumacher was out of the race, this was now Hakkinen's race to lose. The first round of pit stops was not far away. While the teams and few drivers were getting ready for their fresh tyres and fuel, Jacques Villeneuve on lap 35 became the third world champion to hit the wall. Safety car for the third time on the track. "It was my mistake - I was simply going a little bit too fast. There was a lot dirt down on the track at that point, it was easy to make a mistake".

While the safety car was about to be called on-track, a lot of teams executed their pit stop and the cars were back on track without any significant changes. Lap 40, the safety car came in and within seconds, David Coulthard and Ferrari's Eddie Irvine both push each other out of the track, no damage done, and rejoin the track. All this meant, Mika Hakkinen was on his own now with no one to challenge him from the top runners. Heinz-Harald Frentzen was the last casualty of this race. He was running in second position before brakes failed and his car crashed a barrier. This incident put Giancarlo Fisichella to second place and Eddie Irvine third. With just three laps to go, safety car was called on to the track for the fourth time! In the penultimate lap, just before the final chicane, all cars had lined up behind one other. 

If safety car went in, that would have made a spectacular last lap, especially with the proximity of cars at the first and second turns and at the hair pin! Sense prevailed and safety car was not called in and race culminated with all cars finishing behind the safety car - making this the first instance of a race in Formula One completing under safety car regulations. Irony! as it was at the Canadian Grand Prix (1973), the safety car was first deployed in a F1 race.

Sixteen years hence, the circuit remains one of the most demanding for the cars and drivers. 'Wall of champions' still continues to play a significant role and it remains to be seen, if it has any impact on the outcome of this year's Canadian Grand Prix. 

Wednesday 27 May 2015


From 2015 season, Cricket Switzerland is using Dukes pink balls
Cricket in its traditional form was and is played primarily with red leather balls. Cricket balls through the ages were red because the ball-manufacturers in the 18th century England preferred 'red' dyes. This tradition carried on for generations until the time cricket got immersed in the world of commercialisation. Though, there has been one-day internationals with coloured clothing, night games and T20's - cricket at its core is played with red balls as it happens to be one of the few surviving cricketing traditions.

The thought of coloured clothing disturbed this 'traditional' aspect of the sport. 'Red' ball, no longer fitted in with coloured clothing. The colour of the ball was changed to 'white', which meant - coloured clothing and night games were a reality and deemed practical for growth of the sport. In recent years, the governing body of cricket along with many cricket associations have pushed for day-night test matches (it has always been a day affair) with white clothing and thereby the ball required a new colour, something more conducive for the on-field personnel, spectators and to the broadcasters. Red, not suitable under lights and white ball with white clothing would be a disastrous combination - 'pink' became the unanimous colour.

The word 'pink' has a long history. In the 14th century, anything that meant "to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern" was called 'to pink'. Of course, the decorations were of the flower 'Dianthus' which in Greek meant 'flower of Zeus', as named by Theophrastus, a Greek botanist. The colour of these flowers gave rise to the word 'pink' which we commonly use.

In the new millennium, an international cricket series included five-day affair 'tests' and coloured clothing 'one-day internationals'. With the advent of T20 cricket, the game shrunk - and the three hour cricket became an instant hit. Various leagues most notably, the Indian Premier League created ripples and cricket unleashed its newest and the bravest commercial avatar. This fast food formula made money and thus rocked the wooden chairs of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) - the governing body, the custodian who has the ultimate say on the laws of the game!


Since that landmark MCC's decision in 2009, when the committee waved a green flag to experiment with 'pink' balls, there has been several matches that were played (on a trial basis) with these new coloured balls. A women's international match between England and Australia as a part of Pink Sunday programme to support Breast Cancer Campaign happened to one of the first instances in international cricket to experiment with the pink balls.

In the last six years, there has been a first-class match between Durham and MCC played under lights at Abu Dhabi, a first-class match in the Caribbean and recently Cricket Australia has been at the forefront in having the combination of 'pink balls', 'white clothing' and 'day-night' first-class cricket work. It even created trials with the broadcaster last year and there is very likely, later this year, cricket would witness another revolution - the first day-night test match.


For Cricket Switzerland and its cricket playing fraternity, the decision to switch to pink balls starting from 2015 season was simple and logical. Led by the President and ably supported by clubs and other committee members, the idea of pink balls and its experimentation was met with little resistance.

Switzerland doesn’t have the luxury or benefit of cricket only grounds & stadiums with sight-screens, and the background can often be white concrete sports buildings or apartment buildings, red brick housing, dark red & brown mountains, trees & forests (green in the summer, brown/red in the Spring and particularly in the Autumn).

'Visibility' is key when you play in the pastures of Swiss Alps in three different seasons
The above factors can make the traditional red ball difficult to see as a batsman, even more difficult as a fielder. The white alternative is better, but still not ideal as the facilities at public school and sports authorities are often white or grey. So the white ball gets lost in these too. Additionally the white ball tends to be of inferior quality compared to the red and thereby quickly loses its shine and colour on the rough artificial surfaces we have at most grounds, turning grey!

But mountains, buildings, stadiums, forests are not pink! Once we got over the array of jokes about using pink balls, the trials (for over a year) showed there are technical advantages of using the pink ball. They swing much like the red ball, and the one used (Duke's) retains its shine longer than the white and importantly its shape. Batsman see it better, spectators also find it easier to follow and the aging umpires also find it easier to judge.

Pink balls are easy to spot and it helps umpires and the spectators 

Cricket Switzerland believes in maintaining the traditional aspects of the sport (playing in whites); however, for practical purposes - like in this case turning to 'pink balls', it is simply a case of discovering a 'winning formula'. 

Saturday 23 May 2015


In memory of Ayrton Senna at the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix 

1988 Monaco GP, the McLaren team and their turbo engines in peak form; Senna drove around the narrowed streets of Monte-Carlo as if it were a series of qualifying laps. Ayrton Senna in his legendary MP4/4 dominated the Monaco GP weekend right from the time he stepped on to the track. At one point in the race, he had a lead in excess of fifty seconds. That's right, he had lead close to a minute over his teammate Alain Prost. There was no stopping him, until the time, owing to a lapse in concentration, Senna spun off the track, hit the barrier and his race was over with just over twelve laps remaining.

As Ron Dennis (team principal of McLaren-Honda at that time put it - "We were trying to slow him down, but when you back off in a racing car, you lose concentration; so there was just a lapse, nothing else. He was so angry – he didn’t come back to the pits, he walked away from the circuit and sat in his flat. He didn’t reappear until later that evening, and was massively angry with himself…"

After that incident, the next five races at Monaco saw all of it won by the legendary Brazilian.


If not for his 'fault' at the 1988 Monaco GP, he would have had seven wins in a row at the Principality, having won his first in 1987 while driving for Lotus-Honda. Two weeks before the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix, Senna as we all know died from a race casualty at the San Marino GP. This news came as a shock and many questions regarding the safety of the sport were raised. Life had to move on and to those involved with F1, each day stretched and was painful to see a star driver become a victim of the sport.

The very next race at Monaco, the post-Senna era had begun, whether people wanted to believe it or not. And the racing weekend, at Thursday's free-practice, ill-fate struck again. Karl Wendlinger, driving for Sauber crashed at the harbour after exiting the tunnel. The Sauber hit the barrier sideways with a lot of force and Wendlinger's head struck the barriers. It was a violent incident, he was taken to a hospital and was in a coma. His condition didn't improve for several weeks, and he didn't race for the rest of the year. Next year, Wendlinger was unable to regain his pre-accident form and never raced again in Formula One after the 1995 season.


One of Senna's six victories at the Monaco Grand Prix
The Formula One found itself in a strange, unparalleled situation. Since the 1982 San Marino GP, there was no World Champion present. The sport needed a new face to move on. FIA announced sweeping changes with regards to safety, which included the reduction of pit lane speed. It happened in 1960's when Jim Clark became one of the victims and many thought sport would cease to exist. There was an air of déjà-vu, the feelings were of the same when Senna became the Formula One's latest casualty. One person who had seen it all and was calling shots at that time and he still does - Bernie Ecclestone. "No one is bigger than the sport. We've all got to pick ourselves up and go on. The sport moves on and it must do so now." It all seemed logical, those words from Bernie - but if only humans were alienated from what we call 'emotions'. In spite of knowing what needs to be done, there are moments in life, unexpectedly things come to a standstill, where thoughts get blurred, life seems pointless and it makes us understand about existence and how it is not permanent.

At the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix, all knew life had to move on, but at what pace? and how?


No driver other than Prost or Senna had won this prestigious GP from 1983. Now, it was time for a change. Michael Schumacher, in his third full season took the first pole position of his career. Williams and Simtek, both teams started the race with just one driver. And Sauber, after Wendlinger's crash decided to withdraw from the race.

Overnight, Damon Hill was given the huge task of filling in Senna's boots for Williams-Renault. Not just Williams-Renault, the entire decision-makers in F1 had a huge task. The season, so far was dominated by Michael Schumacher and naturally, he was seen as the 'next' poster boy of Formula One.

But, was that tag, justified? At the start of the Monaco Grand Prix, he had raced only in 41 races, same number as Senna's wins in Formula One. Would he be able to make an impact, the way Senna did? There were more questions that were asked, though no one could give any satisfying answers.. However, for all these questions, one answer seemed logical... time! Like the age-old adage goes, 'Time heals everything'. With three wins from three races, Michael Schumacher was the clear favourite to start a new chapter at Monaco.


First row empty start - 1994 Monaco Grand Prix
Michael Schumacher alongside Mika Hakkinen started from row two. The first row was left empty as a mark of respect for the departed drivers - Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

How do you remember 1994 Monaco GP? Will that be remembered as a race where Michael Schumacher secured his first pole position? Will that be recalled by many as first of five wins at Monaco for Schumacher? Will people remember this race where Schumacher achieved his first Grand Slam (pole position, fastest lap and leading every lap from start to finish)?

Though, I am a huge Schumacher fan, I would remember the 1994 Monaco GP as the first race after Senna. I have walked on the very streets where Senna went about his business at Monaco. I have stood for minutes starring at the first row - a place which Senna made his own. And it was a magnanimous gesture to leave that front row vacant, reminding the fans on track and to millions of viewers, what a void he had left!

The race in itself was a recovery from that huge hangover and whatever Schumacher and rest of the drivers did on track, didn't matter. Martin Brundle, the British racing driver and now a commentator never won a race. He was a teammate of Senna's while at McLaren. He finished second behind Schumacher in the race  - "This is a great day for me and I am so glad to achieve this for my loyal and patient fans. Today was one of the best days in my racing career. I made a perfect start and had a faultless race. It has been a very difficult time. When your five-year-old daughter asks you if it's true [Ayrton] Senna is dead it is difficult to reconcile things."


The business of Formula One is such, there is no room for emotional decisions. The best way to recover from a sporting incident is to continue racing, ensuring one never repeats the same mistakes. The sport has become a lot safer and since Senna's demise, there has been no such casualties during the race. There have been accidents - but none claimed any lives. As Ecclestone pointed out, the sport has moved on, people have moved on and memories have faded. But when you are in Monaco and discuss Formula One, people who have been in the sport for a long time will always have a story or two about Senna and his heroics on those narrow streets.

Since that victory on May 15, 1994, Michael Schumacher went from strength to strength and stands tall at the top of Formula One with his achievements. However, he now finds himself in a state of transition, where each day, one cannot say what is going to happen. His family, his fans and a lot more people will move on..... but again at what pace? 

Sunday 10 May 2015


"Just the other way around" - Michael says to Hakkinen 
The rushes of smoke billowing from the back of McLaren-Mercedes is still fresh. Mika Hakkinen, the driver in it was cruising as he prepared to drive the last lap with a lead over 40 seconds. "This is not the way I like to win" - these words from Michael Schumacher summed up the lap, race and the eventual victor of 2001 Spanish Grand Prix.

This was Michael Schumacher's 150th  start of his career and being on pole position seemed like the best place to start the race in the Circuit de Catalunya. Unlike the previous year, Mika Hakkinen was having a horrid time behind the wheels and coming into that race he had scored only four points in as many races. David Coulthard, his teammate was in top form and was tied with Michael for the top place.

The race was held towards the end of April and so the temperatures were pleasant, hovering around 20°C. Michael Schumacher made his usual get-away without any drama as he eased his way to the first turn, and second turn and went about his regular business. From McLaren's perspective, it was Mika and only him to challenge Michael that afternoon. David Coulthard had to start from the back as his car stalled at the start of the parade lap and soon in opening lap of the race, he had a minor collision, as a result of which he had to pit to nurse his damaged front wing. It was catching up all the way through to the chequered flag for the Scotsman.

The battle for the front was between the maestros - Schumacher keeping Hakkinen behind him as they duelled closely through to the first round of pit stops. Schumacher first to pit on lap 23 and four laps later, the Finn came in for his fuel and fresh set of tyres. 'The strategy' of delaying the tyre stop didn't work for the McLaren team as the race order remain unchanged, though Mika Hakkinen had now set the fastest lap which was soon beaten by Michael Schumacher.

The gap between these two veterans constantly hovered around 3 seconds as Hakkinen tracked Schumacher and never let Michael get out of his sight. This was the case until Michael Schumacher came in for his second pit stop. 9.3 seconds stationary and out he went, lap 44, game on and from the looks of it, advantage Ferrari.

If one can make conclusions based on the events till that point, it was certain Michael Schumacher would go on to win the race. Hakkinen, until that point was trailing and never had any significant opportunities to overtake the #1 Ferrari on track. 'The Tactic' of staying on track a bit longer would ensure less downtime while refilling the tank. The plan worked for the Finn and the McLaren team, as he managed to stay six laps longer. Those six laps were enough to build a lead in excess of 26 seconds as he came in to his final tyre and fuel stop. My mind went back to that historic Japanese GP of 2000 when the roles were reversed as Hakkinen maintained his lead with only 15 laps left. In the meantime, Michael Schumacher was losing a second to Hakkinen on each sector.

Ten laps to go and Michael Schumacher was already in cruise mode. A slight problem with the balance on his tyres was preventing him to go faster. With a large gap to the third placed Montoya, there was no threat and a drive at that pace (nearly four seconds off his personal best) would ensure the second place.

 The pace went down even further in the last four laps and he was driving to the chequered flag to secure those 6 points. Coming into the last lap, Hakkinen had a lead close to 40 seconds over Michael Schumacher and had lapped everyone but the second placed driver. The fourth consecutive Spanish GP victory looked set for Mika and it was just a matter of him driving the car for another 75 seconds. 

Then came the rattle, Montoya unlaps himself as he zooms past the slowing McLaren. It was time to win at ease as there was no hurry! Oh wait, Mika shakes his head as he turned into a corner, Hakkinen is slowing down and I was like - "Where is Schumacher?". Soon those were the words of the commentators as well as the TV producer got busy ordering his crew to shift cameras between the dramatic slowdown of McLaren to the slightly off-pace Ferrari. Faced with clutch problems, Hakkinen made few adjustments and a couple of moments later he realised he was unable to reduce the problems he was facing.

Holy smoke!! on the last lap 
Sparks ignited and then came the smoke, a thick one and the car was going nowhere. He slows it down, turns left to park his car and a rose from his seat with a shake of disbelief. Just as Hakkinen was stepping out of the car, Schumacher gets past him to become the new race leader.

A couple of corners to go, Schumacher and Ferrari and rest of us were all in a puzzled state as to what had just transpired. The dejected faces on McLaren pit said it all, what could you say to convince yourself that it didn't happen??? This is what viewers expect out of a F1 race, if possible each race.

Schumacher waved at his fans as he came around to complete his race, chequered flag and yet another victory. A shocked but relieved at this result, he went on to say - "I just saw Mika. Poor guy, I feel sorry for him. We had a huge problem with the third set, I had huge vibrations and that's why I slowed down because I was afraid, I have a tyre which is delaminating or something or going quite wrong - but anyway guys, it seems to be our day, we have been bloody lucky, nevertheless we have got a good car with all the changes (traction control and other electronic aids), we have to finish and we did it. Good job".

Hakkinen's His Man Friday Coulthard - but this time it was after the race 
Hakkinen took a ride back to the pits from his teammate and along the way, he waved at all those track marshals and few of the fans, who kept on cheering "Mika, Mika". Schumacher at the Parc Ferme, saw Hakkinen and ran to him in spite of FIA officials wanting him to finish the pre-podium formalities. They embraced a warm hug, few smiles and few words were spoken in a hurry about luck in F1 racing.

"I'm super-disappointed - goddamm it, you know, Jesus" Those came from Hakkinen.  
Schumacher later admitted he was shocked to see Mika retire and said "This is not the way I like to win, but it has happened in the past and these things happen in racing".

A driver like Schumacher would have loved a fight, however, equally he was philosophical about these elements like luck in racing. On that Sunday, 29th April 2001, the luck went his way and like he said, you lose some, you win some!