Thursday 27 August 2015


Image Source: The Guardian 
Sebastian Vettel had to bow out of the Belgian Grand Prix while he was fighting for the third place. Behind him was Romain Grosjean and he looked good to overtake the Ferrari and steal the last place on the podium from Vettel. With Mercedes not losing its might in the championships, one can assume, a third place finish to be a winner. And Vettel was within this reach and they were on a one-stop strategy with the hard tyres 27 laps old. And then, the Ferrari fending off Grosjean's Lotus had to take some defensive lines and this went on for about five laps and boom! - off it went Vettel's rear right tyre and there was no option but to retire as he had a good 5 km or so to cover to reach the pits. Whose fault was it?

It was not the first time a driver had to retire in Formula One - there have been many occasions when F1 cars have retired when the car was within kilometres from winning before hell broke loose. In the recent past, it has happened to Mika Hakkinen at the Spanish Grand Prix 2001, the car ceased to move because of engine related problems and he retired on the last lap, while leading the race. Kimi Raikkonen was leading the 2005 European Grand Prix and for the last twenty laps he went on with a flat spot on his front right tyre. He raced on over the course of twenty laps (rules stated no tyre change unless punctured) and this affected the suspension and the tyre came off on the last lap. Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren took a gamble. The team and the driver collectively took a decision to ride on their luck hoping it would pay off. Fernando Alonso would have won the race as he had a better car behind Kimi or if Kimi could have held him off,  McLaren would have celebrated the victory. You play the sport with high stakes at times!

When it comes down to going for glory or nothing, you gotta be prepared that - the other side of victory is defeat. To give one more instance of riding on one's luck - Ferrari and Michael Schumacher at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix decided not to pit for new tyres when it was clearly visible the car lacked grip and losing time. Ferrari wanted to gain more points as Schumacher's rival Fernando Alonso (yeah, again) had retired from the race. Ferrari relented and ended up losing Michael Schumacher as he damaged his suspension trying to defend from cars overtaking him.

For Ferrari and Vettel, yes it was unfortunate that tyre gave up the way it did. Twenty seven laps on a single set of hard tyres was not the way other drivers chose. The car was handling fine and I was confident he could have made it but for the pressure exerted by Romain Grosjean in the dying stages of the race. Vettel up until then was happy to be placed third and chose not to pit for new tyres - the script was perfect, just that the Grosjean factor was not considered. The four-time champion could have let the faster car go instead of defending  - but a racer that he is, it is not easy to let go someone without fight in that heat of racing. Vettel pushed his luck, while Ferrari crew could only watch and hope the result to be in their side and in the end it didn't pay off. Tough luck!

Post race, Vettel went aggressive on Pirelli and suggested the tyres must never come off as long as drivers raced within the track limits. However, this isn't an ideal world where things happen as we wish it has to, there will be anomalies and Vettel's tyre burst was one such case. He was fighting for the third place in a race where Ferrari looked out of sorts - Vettel took the gamble and in the end it didn't go his way.

When reporters asked Pirelli head Paul Hembery about Vettel's reaction - he brushed away and told drivers undergo a lot of things after such intense battle before showing surprise about being unaware of Ferrari's single stop strategy compared to rest of the drivers. 

While Vettel has come to terms with the issue of tyres, the world of motorsport mourned at the loss of a former F1 driver Justin Wilson. He drove in the 2003 season in a specially customised cars designed by Minardi and Jaguar as he was very tall for the normal design. He passed away after sustaining head injuries in a IndyCar race.

Graham Nash once quoted - “Life is not perfect. It never will be. You just have to make the very best of it, and you have to open your heart to what the world can show you; and sometimes it's terrifying, and sometimes it's incredibly beautiful, and I'll take both.”

Formula One and motor racing is dangerous and yet people have great ambitions to be part of it, safety marshals risk their lives in doing their job by the track side and many others including fans who are in the circuit - why?

Hindsight is vision 20:20 and decisions are not made all the time looking backwards, some decisions are made on the go looking at the present - it works at times, and in other times it doesn't. If it pays off - life is beautiful; when it doesn't - life can be cruel. C'est la vie, Voilà Formule Un! 

Monday 24 August 2015


Usain Bolt winning his third 100m world championships at Beijing 
Terry Pratchett in his book, A Hat full of Sky quoted - "Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving". The year 2008, the Summer Olympics came to China for the first time and like all the previous editions, the athletics remained the hot favourite. 

Enter Usain Bolt, the tall Jamaican, who was five days shy of turning 22. He had the world record for the 100m dash - but running in a Olympic final is a different matter. As cool as ever, Bolt composed himself, took his mark and when the shot was let go, he was off in a flash and by the time he completed the 70m, there was none to either side of him, he opened his arms, slapped his chest and crossed the line celebrating his achievement. 16th August 2008, the race that catapulted him to the global audience. His unshyly expressions made him a crowd's favourite and overnight he became a poster boy with his trademark 'lightning bolt' pose.

Bolt winning his first 100m Olympic gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympics 

Yesterday, at the Bird's Nest he took part in the clash that was dubbed as 'Good vs. Evil' and like the cliche goes, the good won - but just by a tiniest of margins to retain the title of 'world champion' in 100m.

From 2008 to 2015, a lot has changed in that period for Bolt - from being an apprentice with tons of talent and promise, he has taken giant strides and has conquered all his opponents multiple times, overcame his occasional faults (Daegu 2011) and has become an all-time sprint great. He looks good to add a few more gold medals to his tally in Rio next year, to defend the three gold medals which he won here in Bird's Nest in 2008 which were successfully defended at the 2012 London Olympics - a feat that has never been achieved before in sprinting.

When I watched his epic-duel with Justin Gatlin, my mind went back to 2008 when he was hailed as the 'sprint king' by the members of media and press after his triple gold feat. Seven years on, he has retained his personality, but has gone many levels up, standing tall on the track and off the track staying away from doping. 

It is a rarity and at the same time a privilege to witness a sprint athlete achieve such an extended peak performance and all I can say - athletes like Bolt have carried the image of sports in the positive light and in the right way among all the negativity that threatens to derail the sport consistently. 

My first impression of Usain Bolt was formed during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and since then I have followed his career, met him a couple of times and heard him speak about his journey before Beijing 2008 and his life after that - quite remarkable and inspirational these seven years have been.

Saturday 22 August 2015


Just a week to go before India celebrates yet another National Sports Day. The day is in honour of the birth date of India's first superstar and one of field hockey's finest player. This was featured in SportsKeeda -http://www.sportskeeda.com/cricket/dhyanchand-bradman-meet-indias-greatest-hockey-player-met-australia-greatest-batsman

Today, there is no sport that comes close to cricket in India, the sheer popularity, the fan following this game commands is unparalleled, something one can relate to football in Brazil. And this is a very recent phenomenon - one can say from the 1980's. Before that, for close to 50 years, field hockey was the sport that brought laurels consistently winning eight Olympic gold medals and a World Cup. 

Major Dhyanchand is one such name that lives on through his performances on the hockey field across the world. And in cricket, in the same era as that of the hockey wizard, an Australian by the name of Don Bradman lives in everyone's mind as the greatest cricketer the sport has seen. And these two legends met once - way back in 1935 in Adelaide. 


Friday 21 August 2015


Image Source - http://bit.ly/1PDjTFE 
"There is so much more to racing when it is dangerous, because the exhilaration of success is far higher" - Sir Stirling Moss summed up what was Belgian Grand Prix like when it was twice the length as the current track distance. With an average speed of over 255 km/h (in the 50's and 60's) on a 14.1 km circuit, it was a daunting challenge for the drivers who lined up each year to race at this Grand Prix.

What was considered as exhilaration in the 50's was looked from a different perspective from the mid-1960's. Drivers got together, talked openly about the safety standards about the track. The aspect of 'thrill' was there - but a lot of the drivers didn't want to see one of their colleagues die on the track. The word 'future' didn't exist in the vocabulary of many drivers as they knew all can go wrong in a matter of one second of misjudgment.

The tickets during those days clearly inscribed the words - "Motorsports is dangerous" and yet thousands of people flocked in each year and stood close to the racing tracks, completely aware a slight accident can claim their lives too.

It wasn't a test of who survived from the accidents - instead motor racing was (and is) all about pushing a car to its limit and yet come out alive and celebrate if victorious.

In case of the Belgian Grand Prix, the track comprised of public roads, not an ideal environment for speeding cars - however those were the norm during those days. Since the start of the championships in 1950, each year the car went a touch quicker as competition for the top spot intensified. Naturally, the drivers too went at high speeds and what remained constant was the track and its set up with a minimum focus on safety procedures.

In 1969, several of the drivers boycotted the scheduled Belgian Grand Prix complaining the track was way too dangerous. They had their way in the end and organisers installed the Armco barriers for the 1970 Grand Prix with the previous edition being cancelled. In spite of this added protection, the drivers still felt the circuit was very fast, dangerous and this resulted in the cancelling of Spa-Francorchamps as the venue from 1971 for a period of thirteen years. In 1983, the race distance was halved, a major chunk of the circuit was removed - and with run-off areas, barriers, and other safety measures, the Spa-Francorchamps returned and has been a regular feature since the mid-1980's.


The old circuit at Spa-Francorchamps - pacy and intimidating
Many drivers who raced in the 1950's and 60's have been open in saying the roads of Burnenville, Masta Kink and Stavelot happened to be one of the fastest and intimidating parts they had to encounter, even more challenging than Eau Rouge. A long fast right hand corner in Burnenville leading up to Malmédy was one such part which was challenging and marked the start of the dangerous path in the old circuit.  

And then came the most frightening of all the corners - the Masta Kink. Drivers had to be more brave than skilful to take this corner without leaving the throttle. The Masta Kink was a tight left-right chicane and cars approached it at the top speed well over 270 km/hr. The key element was the speed as this chicane was sandwiched between two unbroken straights each measuring 2.5 km. Hence the entry speed and exit speed was crucial to maintain the overall lap time.

Jackie Stewart in 1966 had his car severely damaged after his BRM crashed a telephone pole at Masta Kink. With fuel dripping all over him and coupled with broken ribs,  he was unable to get out and was stuck in his car. Fellow BRM drivers Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant had also gone off the circuit and the duo came to Stewart's rescue. With no medical support unlike in the modern era, it took a spectator's tool kit to separate Stewart from his car. Jackie Stewart admits, he was lucky to survive as he was half-drenched with fuel and was stuck inside the car for close to 25 minutes. The steering wheel had to be taken off to relieve Stewart and this incident paved way for detachable steering wheels.

Since that incident, Jackie Stewart always tapped a spanner to his steering wheel and off the track became actively involved to improve the safety standards in Formula One. With each year, his fame as a driver grew and so did his voice and his several messages had profound effect on increasing the track safety standards. It was him who led the driver's concerns and eventually had Spa dropped from the F1 calendar till the time it was deemed safe.

There were other races such as the touring races, endurance races that took place in the old circuit in the 70's and finally in 1979, the circuit was modified and it took a further four years for Spa-Francorchamps to make it back to the F1 calendar.

The modified circuit which helped Spa Francorchamps to make a comeback
The beauty, the charm and the nostalgia associated with Spa-Francorchamps is still there without those thrilling sections from the old track. The track revisions has had a positive effect on the organisers and thereby to Formula One - as this circuit's evolution links the several dots the sport has joined over the years.

I was lucky enough to drive on those roads that were deemed dangerous. Burnenville and Masta Kink are now just a pale shadow of what it represented. Since thirty five years, these have remained just another European village roads where speed limits do not exceed more than 80 km/hr. Even today, drivers are excited to go quicker and they get the same exhilaration when they win - but they have also seen a generation growing up who sacrificed their lives to make this sport safer and a lot more secure.

I love this sport because the talk is not about accidents, deaths or safety alone - there is a lot more that's discussed and written about. Formula One is no longer a threat to life as it once was (in spite of Jules Bianchi's tragic incident) - it has evolved and values safety more than few individual's exhilaration and kicks they derive by making sports dangerous. A lot has changed from those killer years when a normal race seemed like a death race. It is no longer a question of hope when a driver sets out to race, he/she is now confident about safety. Yes, being very safe that takes the sheen if one looks at it from excitement point of view alone - however, is it worth rooting for a sport that swallows lives week after week and make money out of it? 

Thursday 20 August 2015


Eau Rouge - the iconic corner in Formula One 
Pouts of rain in the middle of European summer is not an unusual sight and in spite of few days of 'harsh heat', there are more cooler days and that was the case when I reached the town Spa. It was more than a drizzle as a few people working around me have just put on their rain jackets while few visitors took to  umbrellas and went on with their business as usual. I parked my car, asked my mother, if she wanted to come outside? She was comfortable being seated inside the car along with my sister and their newest companion, Abhinav. Tripti, my wife, as usual was always game to my crazy habit of visiting F1 tracks - be it 'contemporary 'or in ruins. We took our umbrellas with us ( just in case) and both went about walking perpendicular to the race track and entered the tunnel over which the cars at a great pace approach 'Eau Rouge'.

Located in the Ardennes and in the province of Liège, its famous municipality Spa is known worldwide for many reasons. A popular place and a well-known site for healing cold springs, the name itself has become eponymous with any place having a natural water source with special health benefits is known as 'spa'. For the lovers of detective fiction, it is worth noting the birth place of Agatha Christie's petit and the central character Hercule Poirot was born in Spa.

Since the mid-1920's, Spa and the nearby towns of Stavelot, Masta and Malmédy all played its part in hosting the Belgian Grand Prix - an annual motorsports event involving cars. After close to 90 years since its inception, there has been just two major revisions to this track one in 1946 and the other in 1983. While the circuit in its totality is one of the best we have in motorsports and specially in Formula One, a tiny part of this track - Radillon Eau Rouge happens to be my favourite.

Tripti and I had walked all the way from the La Source hairpin through the parking garage and the storage areas of the pit lanes towards the 'iconic section' of this track.

The name 'Eau Rouge' translates to 'red water' (French to English), is a small stream that flows through this part of the circuit and joins the river Amblève near Stavelot. Due to the reddish oxide deposits, the stones and the riverbed appears red and hence the name. The corner 'Eau Rouge' was so named as it is in that place, the track crosses the stream for the first time.  

"I can let you inside the track if you have your own sports car and a helmet." - a security official told me. My basic French skills was enough to strike a ice-breaker conversation and soon enough my inability to speak in the local language was evident and he switched over to what he called 'broken English'. We spoke about this part of the track and he explained to me what it was like to be there standing and working when cars are zooming past him. I too shared my views on what I thought about the track just as I saw few cars speed past me to encounter the challenging corner in F1.

I am not sure what worked in my favour, the security official was kind enough to let me walk very close to Eau-Rouge. Just as I was separated by just a few metres from my favourite corner, my mind went blank and I am sure about it as I just recall staring at it - the elevation, the width and imagined all those times when I saw multiple times F1 cars going past it.

So what is it that makes Eau Rouge a cult figure in Formula One? Let me explain it in as few sentences as possible. In the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix, Alex Zanardi (yes, the same guy who injured and came back strongly to win Paralympics medals) had an horrendous accident at Eau Rouge. Following this, there were speculations whether a chicane would replace the existing design of 'Eau Rouge'. When asked, Ayrton Senna just didn't respond, he made a statement - "If you take away Eau Rouge, you take away the reason why I do this (race F1)". Thankfully, sense prevailed, and those speculations remained just that.

While I was visibly disappointed about not walking or driving on Eau Rouge (as there was a testing day for cars), I was told the other farther parts of the circuit was open and can be accessed. I asked him about Blanchimont, the Pouhon and Stavelot - he gave me a smile and nodded a yes.

It was time for lunch as well and I drove along the old-part of the circuit - Haut de la Cote, Burnenville before heading to the centre of Malmédy for a pit stop. The lunch was quick as we bought few sandwiches and off we went on to the road leading to Masta, Holowell leading up to Stavelot where the current track re-joins.

I took a diversion which led me to the smaller roads in the direction of Pouhon and from there a 5-minute drive towards Blanchimont - the fastest corner in F1 (taken at 250 km/hr). I parked my car in between the sections of Fagnes and Stavelot. My son had just woken up from sleep and I took him out and showed him those few cars on the track from a distance. I am not sure whether he would follow F1 in the future, if he does, then he already has been at the 'Mecca of Formula One circuits'.

I spent close to three hours encircling the track and now it was time to head back home. Thanks Amma, Tripti, my sister Rashmi and our little darling 'Abhinav' for having the patience to be part of this 'crazy' road excursion. I had fun explaining why this track remains so dear to me.

The highlight of this Spa trip happened right at the beginning while at Eau Rouge - While I still stood looking at Eau Rouge, the kind security official came to me and pointed towards a building and asked me to go on top of a pit block - to have a look at the same thing which I was staring at. He told me I would enjoy it. And so, it was, the whole view of cars speeding towards Eau Rouge. The sounds of the throttle, the minimal adjustments and a tiny room, in fact no room for error as one takes the corner head on with 100% commitment, flat out before finding yourself on the Kemmel straight.

Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 World champion spoke greatly about Eau Rouge and these were his words - " Eau Rouge is probably the most exciting corner in modern F1. It has a little kink to the left and then you start turning right as the track starts going up. You pull a lot of 'G' force through there and the car scrapes the ground, so you get a little bit sideways. At the same time you don't see the exit of the corner so you're just turning right and then suddenly you're turning left and at that point the car gets very light. All that - flat out! It's a really exciting corner to do. Going flat-out there doesn't actually make your overall lap faster, but it does make you feel proud. Pride is stupid, but it is important!" and......

I now understand what he meant by that. 

Tuesday 11 August 2015


The German team Mercedes do not have a home GP to show their prowess - 
The economy dictates the geography of business and for Formula One, it is following this world norm. With the costs of hosting a Grand Prix increasing with each year, there are countries that are prepared to shell out these exorbitant amounts of money in order to be a part of this 'global machinery circus'. And from next year, the number of races go beyond 20 for the first time. With Azerbaijan slotted as 'European Grand Prix', Formula One has again demonstrated that it is a sought after brand - but at what cost?

I am all for globalisation of the sport and coming from Asia, I am happy to see many of the races coming where the money is. However, I am also of the opinion that, there must be a balance - preserving the tracks of the yore with modern tracks in emerging countries. There is a German team that's been dominant for the past two years and yet there is no clarity regarding the future of German Grand Prix. In fact, this year, the scheduled German GP was cancelled as authorities did not have enough funding to host the event. Thankfully, there will be a German GP for next year, but who knows whether it will see the light of the day!

The FIA is headquartered in Paris, France and has another office in Geneva, Switzerland. A federal law prevents Switzerland from hosting motor-racing events since the tragic incident of Le Mans 1955. What's stopping France to be one of the annual hosts? France, a place where motorsports was born, where Grand Prix was first coined - it is unfathomable to see France not having a place in the calendar.

Yes, we all get the thing - no money, no place - but is that what the sport is all about? What is the point of hosting races where there is no significant national interest or no clear automobile future? The investors would love to get their returns for what they have contributed - but what is the limit? and FIA, it is happy to be receiving all the money generated from the sport and take interest only in making regulations - and even that they need support from the commercial partners and the teams.

What do I propose? - You want twenty races, or even 21, feel free to include it. However, for old time's sake - have races in Germany, France, Britain, Belgium, Monaco and Italy. Out of these six places, only Monaco and Italy have had no problems in hosting the races regularly. Look at tennis, there are many new ATP and WTA venues - but they have preserved the golden quadrilateral of the Grand Slam. Why can't we have a similar one in Formula One?

If you want people to appreciate Formula One in the long run, do not stop at halfway mark of going just to new markets; do make an effort to remain in countries that made this sport popular. 

Wednesday 5 August 2015

And.......England have won the Ashes - A Review

Cricketers take to the field, and rest of the crowd who have worked hard and seamlessly becomes irrelevant and so it should be. If the viewers on the stadium, television and members of the press talk about these 'men in action', consider it a good job done! That's what the we toast, celebrate and talk about at the end of each day of the match. At conclusion, when the stadium is empty, we de-brief and talk about things that worked and not worked. Each day, each match and each city provides a different set of challenges.

Two is a team and it worked beautifully in handling the pressures of ever-demanding environment of Delhi. The challenges are multi-folded and when 'two' is also a company, it helps a great deal. Last year, I was given the task to work under David Clarke to prepare Delhi for the IPL. I previously had heard about him but never knew him on personal terms. To me, it was a crucial aspect - I believe 'the efficiency' of the duo is at its optimum best if we could talk and converse besides work related stuff. And in David, I found a great mentor. He loved to share his stories and was ears to hear my experiences. He asked me how I viewed situations and then added his bit if he felt it would be a value addition. This new team had just found a perfect start - and it was in the foundation.

Since childhood, anything that was narrated to me stayed on my mind longer and continues to. I enjoyed this aspect of knowing facts or perspectives. David's out-going personality meant, I was privileged to hear firsthand about his life, his love for basketball, his love for dogs, his family whom he loves a lot, his bike, his work with England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and coming to the business end, his expertise, prior experience and about English cricket.

I call myself as one of the sports geeks and each tale he shared with me was amazing. One such happened to be about the Ashes 2005.  I was rooting for the underdogs 'England' as it was time the Ashes shifted hands.

He didn't tell me what happened with cricket and how a particular player played, instead I was privy to details what went on off the field, the ego-clashes, the politics, the challenges to pull off a victory campaign.

While players had their own set of challenges, David (who was working with ECB at that time) and his team provided a great back-end support. It cannot be measured or quantified as to how big a role it played to help England win back the Ashes. As an audience, I saw the action unfold, read the editorials and match reports - but this a refreshing take on what went when everyone was busy watching cricket.

His book 'and....England have won the Ashes' doesn't capture the emotions on-field. There were better writers who penned those moments. Any event has its challenges and David touches upon what he and his team went through to pull off a spectacle - events with MCC regarding the use of the original urn for presentation, the aftermath of London bombing, motivational hymn 'Jerusalem' which irked a couple of Aussie cricketers and it culminated with the open bus parade at the Trafalgar Square.

I wouldn't reveal further - and I would end it by saying, if you want to know what are the challenges that are involved in hosting a big series across different cities, this book definitely is worth reading to know 'what happened' behind the scenes and how it all came together in a fairy tale manner when England won the Ashes after sixteen years.

Enjoy reading.....