Monthly Archives: February 2010

Winter Olympics Review – Week 2

“I remember those cheers, They still ring in my ears, So gimme a stage, Where this bull can rage, And though I can fight, I’d much rather recite, That’s entertainment!  That’s entertainment.”

– Jake La Motta, aka Raging Bull

Are you not entertained?!  As the Vancouver Games nears its conclusion, I was still waiting for the “golden moment” of these games, and it finally arrived on Thursday night.  In the evening’s(and the Games) marquee event, Kim Yu-Na’s flawless performance in the women’s figure skating free skate signaled her accession as the new Queen of the figure skating universe and in her(and mine) native country of South Korea.  Kim was the prohibitive favorite going into the Games; she arrived in Vancouver with the weight and eyes of an entire country fixed upon her, and despite the immense pressure and expectations, she rose to the occasion and delivered a performance that many commentators unanimously agreed was one of the greatest of all time.  The moment she finished her routine the emotion started flowing instantly; tears of joy and relief started to stream down her face, and she knew that her lifelong dream was now a reality.  The women’s event was already ripe with drama and emotion; bronze medalist Joannie Rochette skated only four days after her mother passed away, and she stole the of hearts her countrymen with a routine that was as much as a eulogy as it was performance art.  So the question is where does Queen Yu-Na go from here?  She is undoubtedly a mega-celebrity back in Korea, and at 19 years of age, she’s still just a kid.  Will we see her in 4 years at Sochi?  She’s already accomplished everything that’s possible in her sport, and personally I think this is the perfect opportunity for her to soak in the limelight, take a bow and move on with the rest of her life.  But if she does decide to come back to compete in 2014, who, if any, will attempt to challenge her reign?  All hail the Queen.  In case you missed it, here’s the link to her coronation.

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=e554cf17-5d3c-4531-9dc6-c9a9cf5eec06.html#queen+yu+na+crowned+kim+wins+gold

Speaking of queens, I have to mention the ongoing real life soap opera taking place in the men’s figure skating world, with American divo Johnny Weir taking front and center stage.  Now I’m not sure if this makes me sexist, but I will acknowledge that while I do watch women’s figure skating, I don’t have much interest in the men’s side of the sport.  But I will occasionally tune in to see what over the top outfits the men are sporting, and silver medalist and former Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko’s persona is a bizarre yet intriguing amalgam of steely cold-hearted Russian resolve combined with the graceful elegance of Baryshnikov.  But the skater I want to address is Weir, whose flair for the dramatic and in your face flamboyance sparked a controversy when two Canadian commentators, Claude Mailhot and Alain Goldberg made some despicable remarks about Weir’s outfit for the competition, accused him of being a bad example for young male skaters, and even called for a gender test.  Weir in response held a conference to respond to the comments, and his humility and grace masked what I think he and alot of other people really felt, which was “Fuck you, you fake Frenchies.”  If you’re not familiar with Johnny Weir, here’s a sample of his work:

All I can say is WOW.

Face glitter and high heels aside, there is something about Weir’s demeanor that you have to admire and applaud.  He managed in his press conference to emphatically discredit and denounce the comments made about him without coming off as bitter or vindictive.  And contrary to the belief of his critics, he demonstrated that he is in fact a positive role model for his fans, while still asserting his individuality and indifference towards any misguided public perception of him.  Here’s a clip of the conference.

And if you’re not convinced, I submit one last piece of evidence on behalf of his defense.

There are no words.  Speechless.  The sad part is Weir came in 6th place in the men’s event, so he won’t be invited to skate in the exhibition gala on Saturday, and we won’t get to see Weir and his performance to Poker Face.  What’s even sadder is Lady Gaga promised she would attend the gala if Weir was going to perform.  And anytime the world is deprived of Gaga, we all lose.  But I digress…

A petition was started to have Weir perform on Saturday, here’s the link.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/johnnygweir.

Hockey

USA! USA!  It’s not quite the Miracle On Ice, but Team USA’s 5-3 win over Canada earlier this week was the Olympic shock heard round the world, or at least in North America.  The American men’s team is chock full of youth and energy, as a new generation of young American stars have taken over the reins, with young talents like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Patrick Kane, Ryan Malone, goalkeeper Ryan Miller all asserting their place on the team, with veterans Chris Drury, Brian Rafalski, and Jamie Langenbrunner all providing a steady presence on the ice and in the locker room.  The feel good vibe this team exudes is in stark contrast to the 1998 team that trashed their rooms in the Olympic Village.  The 1998 games were significant because for the first time in the modern Games era the NHL took a break in their season to allow the top players to play in the Olympics, and as a result the Canadian and American teams were filled with top-tier stars.  Surprisingly neither team medaled in the 1998 Games, as the Czech Republic, anchored by perennial NHL superstars Jaromir Jagr and “The Dominator” Dominik Hasek, won the gold.  The US team came off as underachieving prima donnas, and Team Canada fell flat and was beaten by Finland in the bronze medal game.  Since then, Team USA underwent a gradual transition away from a team filled with the old establishment of NHL veterans to the next generation of talent, while still preserving a few essential pieces.  USA just secured their rematch with Canada in the gold medal game after trouncing Finland 6-1 earlier today.  One has to feel that Team USA has the mental edge going into the final game, having beaten Canada already once before.  The “Dream Team” like aura the Canadian team once exuded is now gone, and I expect one of the best gold medal games ever.  If USA can pull it off, don’t call it a fluke.  Sorry Canada, hockey may be your national sport, but this is our continent.

Bobsledding

I’ve come to the conclusion that bobsledding is less of a sport and more of a circus act.  Whoever came up with the idea of driving a five hundred pound sled down an icy tunnel without any substantial steering control must have been on something real good.  What makes the sport even more ridiculous is the “expert” commentators who often get egg on their face, as it seems they can’t really distinguish a good run from a bad one, or a fast run from a slow run to be more accurate.  I lost count how many times the result of a run was the opposite outcome of what a commentator predicted from their observations.  But it does seem like a lot of fun, and at speeds up to 95 mph the g-forces a bobsledder feels is equivalent to an extreme roller coaster ride.  And I love g’s.  Although if this happened to me, as it did to the German women’s team during their final run, I would probably reconsider my commitment to the “sport.”

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=6e5f6ff1-1f78-4161-84ee-116bc58fe95c.html#day+germanys+martini+crashes+fourth

Curling

Update: So my beloved Russian women’s team is out, and I’m watching the Canada/Sweden gold medal final as I’m writing this post.  Considering how much I enjoy watching curling on tv oddly enough, I discovered there are three curling facilities in the Bay Area, although none are in SF.  Anyone care for a match?  I’ll even settle for a game of shuffleboard.  On second thought, no, I will not settle.

MP

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2010 F1 Season Preview – Part 3

Update: USF1 team officials announced they have asked the FIA for permission to miss the first four races of the season to give them more time to address their apparent financial difficulties.  They made this request despite knowing fully well that FIA regulations require an F1 team to field a running car from the first race of the season to be eligible to race.  While the coffin might not be fully shut on the USF1 endeavor, it’s getting damn close.  Campos Meta has their own financial issues and is also facing dissolution, the important question at this point is will the FIA allow Stefan GP to step in and fill the potential void(s)?  Will Stefan GP be ready with only two weeks time considering they canceled a test in Portugal after failing to secure a tire supply stream from Bridgestone?  The Belgrade-based team claims they are ready to race, with former F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve and former Toyota driver Kazuki Nakajima as their No. 1 and 2 drivers, respectively.  Can an F1 team get some tires?  Is that too much to ask?  But I digress…time to address the teams that we know for certain will be running this season.

Toro Rosso:     2009 Constructors Points – 8     Drivers – Sebastian Buemi, Jamie Alguersuari

For the past four years Toro Rosso(Red Bull in Italian) has operated essentially as the junior team of Red Bull Racing, with the goal of developing the skill level of promising young drivers and eventually moving them up to the senior team.  The Red Bull/Toro Rosso alliance is a highly unusual one even in the long and storied history of F1.  Both teams were purchased by Red Bull GmbH(yes, the energy drink maker) after Jaguar and Minardi decided to exit F1 in 2004 and 2006, respectively.  Both teams were subsequently renamed in a grandiose marketing campaign and to serve as the crown jewel in the drink manufacturer’s lofty ambitions to compete at all levels in motorsport.  While Red Bull Racing has gone on to achieve significant success in F1, Toro Rosso has floundered for most of its existence.  Granted the team’s concept as a feeder team restricted its ability to court top tier drivers, but both teams shared nearly identical chassis and exchanged a substantial amount of race data and R&D information.

Before the 2007 season, Red Bull transferred their engine supply contract with Ferrari over to Toro Rosso, which provided the junior team with a supply of engines of proven performance and reliability.  Despite the engine upgrade, Toro Rosso suffered from poor reliability and driver errors, which led to the team canning their young American prospect Scott Speed halfway through his first F1 season.  Despite the lack of positive results, a silver lining revealed itself when the team replaced Speed with Sebastian Vettel, who shocked the Red Bull team management umbrella and F1 community when he won his first race at the 2008 Turkish Grand Prix, the first win for either team.  Vettel was promoted to the senior team at the end of the 2008 season, and after his graduation Toro Rosso fell back into futility in 2009, with the team once again firing one of their drivers midseason, only this time it was the Frenchman and 4-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastian Bourdais getting the axe, and the team finished dubiously in last place in the Constructors standings.  Vettel’s win, despite its significance as a milestone in the team’s history, highlighted the frustrations over the inconsistency and at times ineptitude that plagued Toro Rosso.  For 2010, the team retained both drivers from last season, so there’s no real hope of a significant leap forward, only incremental steps at best.  And to compound it all, the 2008 Concorde Agreement(F1’s equivalent of a collective bargaining agreement) outlaws customer cars after this season, which means Toro Rosso would have to design their own car, and Red Bull Owner Dietrich Mateschitz in response has put the team up for sale.  Oddly enough, however, the Toro Rosso STR5 is the first car in team’s history to be designed without any design or engineering contributions from the senior team, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the B-team.  2010 may very well be a lame duck season for Toro Rosso, and if this is in fact the end of the team is in its current form, one can only think what could have been.

Enjoy it while it lasts, boys, this might be the beginning of the end.

Force India:     2009 Constructors Points – 13     Drivers – Adrian Sutil, Vitantonio Liuzzi

The vision of a consortium of Indian businessman led by Vijay Mallya and Michiel Mol, Force India is somewhat of a wild card in the F1 paddocks.  The team scored zero points in their inaugural season back in 2008, but 2009 might have been something of a coming out party.  Before the start of the 2009 season the team secured a five year contract with Mercedes to purchase engines from the German manufacturer, and in addition the deal included a supply of McLaren-Mercedes gearboxes, hydraulic systems, and the now defunct KERS system.  Mercedes also pledged to share significant engineering data and information as part of a larger global strategic alliance.  The effects of the partnership between the two teams were not immediate, but it would eventually culminate in Giancarlo Fisichella winning a stunning pole position at the Belgian Grand Prix at the legendary Spa circuit.  An early pass by Kimi Raikkonen in his KERS-equipped Ferrari denied Fisichella and Force India their first team win, but it was clear that the VJM02 was more than competitive on high speed, low downforce circuits like Spa and Monza, where the car not so coincidentally achieved its best results.  Building off their limited but promising results from last year, the team recently unveiled the VJM03 in time for the Jerez circuit tests.  The car’s livery appropriately sports the colors of India’s national flag, but more importantly the car is the evolution of its predecessors, which I feel is a necessary criteria for an F1 car to be competitive.  Clean slate projects rarely if ever succeed in F1, and Force India seems intent on becoming a major player.  Just from listening to the drivers and the team management speak you get a sense of the purpose and resilience to make a strong showing this season.

Renault:     2009 Constructors Points – 26     Drivers – Robert Kubica, Vitaly Petrov(rookie)

2009 was not exactly a good year for the lone French automobile manufacturer team.  Despite the optimism going into the season after a strong finish in 2008, it was clear the R29 was not going to be competitive.  Not having a competitive car was the least of the team’s troubles, however, when an investigation was launched to examine the actions of the team during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix under the suspicion of conspiracy to fix or manipulate the outcome of the race.  The issue at controversy was a crash by Renault’s #2 driver Nelson Piquet Jr. on the 15th lap of the race on a part of the circuit that necessitated the safety car coming out.  #1 driver and two time world champion Fernando Alonso pitted just three laps earlier and decided to run on a light fuel load, which was unusual considering he was towards the back of the field, and contrary to conventional race strategy.  Another contributing factor to the suspicion of collusion was a new regulation change for 2009 that mandated the pit lanes remain closed during a safety car incident until all race cars were picked up by the safety car, which was to the detriment of the leaders in the field.

To explain what happened, think of it this way: Say three people decided to participate in a marathon, and the runner in 3rd place was mauled by a bystander(just go along with it).  The #2 runner, before #3’s incident occurred, decided to take a water break to rehydrate and catch his breath, during which the entire time #1 kept chugging along and building his lead.  Now suppose because of #3’s injuries the race marshals decided to temporarily hold up #1 and #2 to go to #3’s aid, and allowed #2 to catch up completely to #1, despite the fact that #1 was clearly outrunning #2.  And to top if all off, what if the race marshals didn’t even allow #1 to rehydrate until he was rejoined with #2, who was already fresh because of his reprieve?  Does any of this sound fair to you?  And what if I told you that #2, #3, and the assailant were all teammates and essentially orchestrated the entire course of events?  That’s pretty much what happened at Singapore, and Renault were the perpetrators.  Needless to say, once the investigation was completed and the ugly truth came out, the FIA dropped the hammer on Renault.  Managing Director Flavio Briatore and Director of Engineering Pat Symonds were given a lifetime and 5 year ban, respectively, from any involvment in F1, and they resigned from their positions as a result.  The bans were eventually overturned on appeal by a French court, but the damage was already done.  To make matters worse, Alonso jumped ship to Ferrari after the end of the 2009 season, and the team fired Nelson Piquet halfway through the season, despite his dubious sacrifices for the team.  Since “Crashgate” the team has made efforts to move forward; they signed the talented young Pole and former BMW driver Robert Kubica, and recently signed Vitaly Petrov to be their #2 driver, making him the first Russian driver in the history of F1.  As far as the car goes, the good people at F1fanatic addressed an oddity in the R30’s design.  Because of the need for a larger fuel tank this season due to the ban on refueling, most of the cars for 2010 were redesigned with a longer wheelbase.  But the R30 seems to have almost the exact same dimensions as the R29.  To provide a visual comparison, here’s a side by side comparison of the R29 and R30 and the Ferrari F60 and F10.

Judging from the overhead side by side shots it’s quite evident that the R30 has almost the exact same dimensions as the R29, while the F10 is noticeably longer than the F60.  What gives?  It could be that Renault managed to squeeze the larger tank somehow into last year’s car without significantly lengthening it, but that would mean the tank would be taller and would raise the car’s center of gravity, which is a big no-no in racing physics.  Maybe Renault just doesn’t give a damn anymore, or maybe they’re convinced they can make it work.  It hope it’s the latter, but my gut tells me Renault resigned to being a spectator for the 2010 season.  It’s not inconceivable that Renault might exit F1 altogether after this season; they have a long but intermittent history in F1, and the glory years of 2005 and 2006 seem to have the lost their luster.  With respect to Renault, they are truly a tale of two teams, and while not long ago it was the best of times, now it seems the worst of times are just around the next turn.

Stay tuned as I’ll cover the mid-level and rising hopeful contender teams sometime next week.

MP

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Winter Olympics Review – Week 1

Given I’m a fan of sport in general, my friend Scott aptly pointed out that F4D is entirely my own forum and has no restrictions, and that my lack of commentary on the Winter Olympics was a glaring omission.  A post on the Olympics would be a welcome reprieve from my recent posts focused entirely on F1, so without further adieu…

Alpine Skiing

So Bode Miller does a big bellyflop at the Turin Games back in 2006, goes into semi-retirement and uses the time off to recharge his batteries and is reinvigorated to ski again?  Sounds like a dozen athlete pseudo-retirement stories, but at the same time, Miller is not exactly a conventional athlete.  He embodies the spirit of the label “maverick”; Raised in a log cabin with no electricity or plumbing for most of his childhood, Miller stated that his goals in skiing is not to win medals, but rather to ski “as fast as the natural universe will allow.”  He eventually parlayed that penchant for going fast into two World Cup titles, and a pair of silver medals back at the Salt Lake City Olympics, including a memorable moment where he hiked back up the slalom course to finish his run after he missed a gate.  But his performance at the Turin Games, both on and off the slopes, will always stand out as one of the most disappointing demonstrations of what an athlete shouldn’t do at the highest level of competition.  He failed to win a medal, claiming the expectations were unrealistic(Really? You’re one of the best in the world at what you do, you had five chances to show it and came up short every time).  And yet he had the audacity to say that despite his failures on the slopes, his Olympic experience was a success and it had “been an awesome two weeks,” and that he “got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”  Understandably since then Miller has sub silentio retracted some of his comments, stating “My actions are not always consistent. I’m super-mellow and laid back, but I’m always thinking and running 100,000 scenarios through my head. Sometimes I’m disciplined, but I like to be a total slacker, too. I party hard, but I train hard. People are going to try and figure me out and figure out my motivations, and it’s going to be a circus.”  To be fair, Miller has always been mercurial and enigmatic, which also makes him highly intriguing.  But the hypocrisy in his personal philosophy is evident when he speaks of his accomplishments, e.g. After his 2006 Olympic performance, he stated that he didn’t set out any specific goals for the Olympics, that winning medals didn’t motivate him, and that winning the World Cup title was more important than any medal.  See the inherent conflict?  Medals or trophies don’t motivate you, but winning the World Cup does?  But that’s all in the past, and watching him perform in the downhill and super-g at Whistler, you could see he was genuinely determined to do well.  Perhaps Miller finally got what the Olympics are about, or maybe this is all just a well designed PR ploy to restore his somewhat tarnished image.  Nonetheless, it’s to safe to say he at least achieved his one goal in life of going fast, just not the fastest.

Update: Miller won his first Olympic gold medal in the super combined sunday evening after blitzing the slalom course after a lackluster downhill run.  It seems Miller has wholeheartedly drank the Olympic kool-aid, but it doesn’t necessarily invalidate my prior comments.

On the women’s side, it’s clear there’s Lindsey Vonn, and then the rest of them.  Her gold medal winning downhill run wasn’t exactly perfect, which highlights just how much better she is than her competitors.  It’s a safe bet to say she’s poised to become the next skiing megastar, she has pretty much the whole package.  On another note, how exciting was the women’s downhill event as a whole?  It showcased the entire spectrum of emotions and sensations an athlete experiences, from the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat.  In case you missed it, here’s a short clip of the crashes from the event.

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=ef1ea57d-0b12-4751-ab95-c3c2cff6f6de.html#crashes

While Marion Rolland’s crash thirty feet out of the starting gate was the most tragic and embarrassing, I found Daniela Merighetti’s crash to be the most poignant of all of them.  While her fall looked the least spectacular and painful, her reaction stood out as one of genuine disappointment, and in the same moment she was humanized as an athlete, and I applaud her honesty and candor.  It’s at the 1:05 mark in the link.

Speed Skating

Now I normally strive to be objective as possible in general, and I’ll do my best in this circumstance, but it’s not going to be easy.  It’s undeniable that Team USA and the media are at full throttle in promoting Apolo Ohno as the greatest(more appropriately prolific) American Winter Olympian.  Really?!  When I think of the greatest Olympians, names like Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis, Hermann Maier, and of course Michael Phelps come to mind.  Now I have to lump in that d-bag Ohno with sporting royalty?  Before I continue, I feel obligated to disclose that my Korean descent is naturally going to predispose my attitude towards Ohno; the South Korean speed skating program is one of the strongest in the world, and there’s been plenty of controversy between Ohno and the Koreans.  In 2002, Ohno was essentially gifted a gold medal in the 1500m event after he complained he was impeded by Kim Dong-Sung.  The officials ruled in Ohno’s favor, and sparked a firestorm of controversy among the speed skating community and the American and South Korean press.  To illustrate how much vitriol we felt towards Ohno, he was voted in 2003 as the most hated athlete and fourth most hated personality in the world in South Korea.  I will concede, however, that Ohno is one of the best short-track speedskaters of his era, but I will not acknowledge that he is the definitively the best.  Michael Phelps didn’t establish his legacy by winning silver and bronzes, he was all about the gold.  Ohno’s track record reflects a consistency that is laudable, but he is far from dominant.  And as proof of my position, look no further than his performance so far in Vancouver: A silver in the 1500m, but with a huge asterisk considering that two Koreans in 2nd and 3rd place inexplicably took each other out on the last turn of the final lap, gifting the silver medal to Ohno, and a bronze in the 1000m, this time getting beat by two Lees.  Greatest Winter Olympic Champion?  A champion?  Begrudgingly yes.  The Greatest?  Hardly not.  And judging from my observations the universal dislike towards Ohno only helps to solidify my stance towards him.  If you’re not convinced, I submit as evidence Exhibit A.

I rest my case.

On another note, shout out to Shani Davis, the American long track speedskater and two time gold medalist in the 1000m.  As the first African American athlete from any country to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics, he isn’t just a champion, but a champion and a trailblazer, which in my book makes him extra special.  Davis didn’t necessarily have to break the same barriers Jackie Robinson did, but he channels the same grace and humility when he competes.

Snowboarding

It’s Shaun White’s world, and we all witnesses.  When it’s evident you’re competing at a level several notches higher than your competitors, is it even a competition?  His level of performance echos one of my favorite quotes from my old tennis coach: Endurance is when all your opponents have quit, and you are only in competition with yourself.  Double Mctwist 1260?  As visually impressive as it sounds delicious, unless it’s an item at McD’s. On the women’s side, despite the American double duo of Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler, Australian Torah Bright took the top prize, and I foresee multiple magazine covers and endorsements in her future.

She pretty much nailed the slightly snarky yet seductive runway model look, not to mention the switch backside rooster 720.

Curling

Speaking of attractive female Olympians, have you seen some of the members of the Russian curling team?  Despite having watched curling events during Olympic years in the past, I never noticed female curlers for their physical attractiveness the same way I did for another Olympic sport like pole-vaulting or volleyball.  But Lydmila Privivkova and Ekaterina Galkina have forced me to reconsider my Olympic viewing priorities.  Take a look for yourself, I took these pictures with my iPhone on my tv so that my friend Charles wasn’t in the dark.


The brunette resembles Rachel Leigh Cook, and in the curling realm, she’s all that.

The scantily clad female in this picture is apparently a member of the Polish curling team, but unfortunately they didn’t qualify for the Olympics this time around.  Oh well, there’s always Sochi in 2014.

All in all, it’s been an entertaining first week, stay tuned for a wrap up post probably at the end of next week.  Peace!

MP

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2010 F1 Season Preview – Part 2

With the 2010 season a little more than three weeks away, the teams have been undergoing extensive testing of their new cars, and the results have been somewhat inconclusive.  A contributing factor to the lack of clarity of the strength of the teams is in large part due to the fact that refueling is no longer permitted during a race this season, and as a result the cars have been essentially redesigned to account for the larger fuel tank.  Any test times therefore have to be taken with a grain of salt, as a team will likely be running their circuit tests on both light and heavy fuel loads.  Time to take a look at the state of each team and their season prospects, I’ll start with the new teams and from the bottom of the constructors standings from last year and work our way up.

USF1

Flash news alert!  According to the Argentinian media, USF1 have decided to abandon their bid to race in 2010.  This isn’t exactly shocking, considering they didn’t have a team infrastructure in place, they failed to sign a second driver, and haven’t yet debuted their car.  There were also murmurs doubting Chad Hurley’s commitment to the project.  Sounds like a formula for disaster if you ask me.  I wonder what’s the possibility we’ll see Peter Windsor back at Speed as a correspondent and interviewer?  Personally I think that’s where he belongs, I enjoy his commentary and insightful questions.  The team principals have yet to make a formal announcement, I’ll keep you posted of any developments.  But for all intents and purposes, USF1, you’re dead to me.

Campos Meta

In contrast to USF1, Campos has been eerily silent about their team’s progress, and recent news reports indicate that the team is in financial difficulty.  The vision of former F1 driver Adrian Campos, the team is in dire straits, as they failed to pay their chassis constructor Dallara and their engine builder Cosworth.  Sounds like another dead duck, and the fact that two teams now are defunct before they even built a running car reflects the signifcant barriers to entry in F1.

Lotus

Finally, a new F1 team that has a full team operation, drivers, and a running car!  I vaguely remember Lotus the last time they participated in F1, which was back in 1994.  1994 will always be a seminal year in the history of F1; Ayrton Senna, the talismanic three time world champion, died at the San Marino Grand Prix when his Williams seemingly flew off the track at the now infamous Tamburello corner.  One of the most revered personalities in the history of the sport, his death was a sobering reminder of the inherently dangerous nature of auto racing, but in a twisted yet romantic way he was immortalized in that moment, and his legacy as a sportsman and ambassador of life was cemented.  His death galvanized the F1 teams and the FIA to focus on making the sport safer for the drivers and the fans, and his larger than life image seems to only grow with time.  I submit to you the man and the legend.

But i digress…

Lotus Chief Technical Officer Mike Gascoyne declared that his goal this season is for Lotus to recreate the same success Brawn achieved last year, which is a tall order since Brawn swept both championships with somewhat relative ease.  But Lotus faces a much more difficult challenge considering that Brawn already had an existing program in place and the only barriers they had to overcome were financial ones.  If you’ll indulge me for a moment, what if Lotus was able to not just be competitive, but managed to be a championship contender in their first year?  Would this be a good thing for F1?  I want to say no, and it’s not because I don’t root for the underdog in life, which I generally do.  It’s in large part because F1 is not a elementary playground for drivers and constructors; it’s the pinnacle of motorsport, and an upstart team winning in their inaugural year would compromise and devalue the highly technological and human/financial capital intensive nature of F1.  Lotus’ success could open a Pandora’s box where upstart teams with no real vested interest other than gaining commercial exposure could flood the field, and possibly drive out the more established teams, which would be a real disservice.  Brawn’s success last year could have possibly marked a turning point in F1 from a capital driven sport to a watered down version similar to the IRL or a comparable open racing series.  The transition has already started, it’s now just a question of how far the teams and the FIA want to take it.  But I will applaud Lotus’ operation, they signed two established drivers in Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, and they seem committed to developing their program over a long term period.  Plus their car livery is pretty sweet, it’s classic Lotus style and no other teams are sporting a similar aesthetic.

Virgin Racing

Virgin’s entry into F1 in large part spawned from their limited sponsorship of Brawn last year, and the mere fact that billionaire jetsetter Richard Branson is behind the wheel is reason to be intrigued, if not excited.  V’s operation is the equivalent of a mad scientist trying to make superconductivity feasible; Technical director Nick Wirth designed the VR-01 entirely in the computer lab using CFD(Computational Fluid Dynamics) without utilizing wind-tunnel or real life testing, which is almost unthinkable in the F1 sphere.  Couple that with the fact that Virgin’s engine supplier is Cosworth, who have had limited success in F1 despite a prolonged history, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see them at the top of the time charts this season.  Regardless, the reception to Virgin has been mostly positive, and #1 driver Timo Glock is a solid acquisition.  The VR-01 has a refined yet contemporary visual look, but the important thing is can it go fast?

Part 3 is coming next week, stay classy monsters!

MP

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There’s no real reason for this post other than I really like this picture, I took it last year at the Tour of California prologue.  The cyclist in this picture is Tom Boonen, three time winner of Paris-Roubaix, green jersey winner of the ’07 Tour de France, and all around rouleur/sprinter/party boy, and perhaps most interesting of all the “victim” of a voluntary alcohol induced blackout that somehow triggered an involuntary contact with cocaine at a late night party. Allez!

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2009 F1 Season Review/2010 Season Preview – Part 1

2009 was an interesting year in Formula 1.  The automobile industry, still reeling from the global economic recession, decided to rein in and reallocate their R&D expenditures, cutting costs in the area of pure automotive racing performance to focus on green energy car designs and streamlining production lines, that is unless you were Toyota, which means you were preoccupied with manufacturing quasi-gimmicky hybrid cars with faulty gas and brake pedals.  A trickle down effect, or lack thereof, of financial resources had a noticeable difference in the design and manufacturing regulations of the 2009 F1 cars, and because of the cutting edge nature of F1, more so than any other racing series in the world.

Traditionally, top tier F1 teams like Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, and Honda were infamous for their lavish and seemingly limitless financial budgets, and now all of a sudden the FIA(or Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, the international governing body of motorsport) was focused on cutting costs and leveling the playing field.  Say what?!  F1 has never been a parity-driven racing series, it’s the pinnacle of motorsport, a veritable playground for the biggest and most prestigious automobile manufacturers in the world to showcase their proprietary technologies(although new regulations have mostly barred them now) and raise the bar for automotive performance.  As the saying goes in F1, it’s about the car, but the driver makes the car go.  So what exactly was the FIA thinking when they made this decision to potentially compromise the spirit of their sport?  In one word, the economy, stupid.  Considering Toyota’s team operated on an annual budget of a whopping $448 million(or as much as $700 million, depending on who you believe) back in 2008, compared to the smallest team in Super Aguri whose budget was a relatively paltry $48 million, there’s something screwy going on here.  The fact that Toyota boasted the largest budget, not to mention the tsunami-like economic damage they felt from the global recession, it’s kind of hard to justify such exorbitant expenditures.  Sadly, 2009 was Toyota’s last season in F1, at least for the foreseeable future, and what do they have to show for it?  After 8 years and more than $3 billion invested, they failed to win even one race, which makes the venture an unequivocal failure(on a sidenote, could it get any worse for Toyota than it is for them right now?  After decades of churning out some of the most efficiently engineered and dependable cars in the world, and finally achieving the distinction of being the biggest and in many regards the most respected automobile manufacturer in the world, they seemingly can’t build a car that doesn’t have some design defect.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen, but the real question is, will Toyota rise again?  I’m inclined to say yes, but I’m not going to hold my breath, or buy a Prius anytime soon for that matter).  But I digress…

Using this pie chart as a visual guide of how a F1 team allocates its resources, it’s clear that almost exactly half of a team’s budget is dedicated towards engine development and construction.  The FIA recognized this economic phenomenon, and the first step they implemented to cut costs was an engine design freeze for 5 years.  It makes fiscal sense that they imposed this restriction, but the FIA took their newfound economic principles to an extreme and attempted to impose freezes on nearly all aspects of F1 car design, in addition to a hard salary cap on all F1 teams, which led to the existing F1 teams creating FOTA, or Formula One Teams Association, and threatening to abandon ship and create their own racing series, which would’ve effectively killed F1.  Thankfully the two sides were able to come to an 11th hour agreement, but it shows how close they came to self destruction, and how far apart they were in terms of their vision for the future.

The effects of the new design regulations were felt from the first day of the 2009 season.  In a deft move, Ross Brawn, who already won seven world championships with Benetton(now Renault) and Ferrari, took over the remnants of the folding Honda team(another casualty of the global economic slowdown) as team principal, retaining the integral parts of the team while cutting away most of the fat.  And for those of you who don’t know, Brawn GP went on to win the first five of six races of the season, eight in total, and won both the Drivers and Constructors championships.  Talk about a Cinderella story!  But could this have ever happened if the new regulations weren’t in place?  Considering the fact that Brawn was essentially the same team in Team Honda, who failed to win a race the previous year, it’s not a stretch to say what Brawn achieved wasn’t just historic, but also the biggest fluke in the history of motorsport.

When you take into consideration that there was a host of new regulations implemented before the 2009 season, e.g. a complete ban on aerodynamic winglets and barge boards, a switch from grooved tires back to slicks(which I wholeheartedly welcomed), a larger front wing and a taller and narrower rear wing, and not to mention the infamous single/double rear diffuser controversy, coupled with no improvements in engine performance, it makes almost perfect sense that a dark horse team came out of seemingly nowhere to lay siege to the season.  The shift from an emphasis on aerodynamic grip to mechanical grip was implemented in hopes of facilitating overtaking and to make the racing more competitive, but the changes didn’t seem to have the effect that the FIA intended.  Overtaking was still relatively sparse, and in fact many of the drivers complained that there was a noticeable lack of downforce while driving in another car’s slipstream, making the cars twitchy and difficult to handle, which was the exact opposite of the outcome FIA regulators hoped to achieve.  In addition, the new KERS(Kinetic Energy Recovery System) device and its impact on the racing was inconclusive, as only three teams ever made a wholehearted effort to use the technology in a race during the season, and its poor reliability and additional weight seemed to hinder rather than improve the performance of the cars.  But perhaps the most damaging outcome of all the regulation changes was the relative lack of drama throughout the season, at least compared to the past few years, particularly 2007 and 2008, which were two of the most memorable and thrilling seasons quite possibly since Michael Schumacher(more on him later) and Mika Hakkinen’s epic battle during the 2000 season.  And in terms of the car’s design aesthetic, I’ll leave it up to you to decide which “formula” is more visually pleasing:

2008

2009

Personally, I think the 2009 formula struck a balance between function and form, and the cars were just as fast as their 2008 versions, so at least the performance level didn’t take a step backwards, but rather sideways perhaps.

But 2009 is in the past, and it’s time to look forward to what 2010 holds in store.  Gone is Toyota, but a host of new teams have thrown their hat into the F1 ring in hopes of not necessarily winning, but at the least fielding competitive cars.  Lotus has returned after a 16 year hiatus, Virgin Racing recently unveiled their car for the 2010 season, and USF1 and Campos Meta are in the process of building a comprehensive operation.  The elite teams like Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes(formerly Brawn GP), and Red Bull are all focused on climbing the ladder once again, not to mention the return of the legend Michael Schumacher and his reunion with Ross Brawn at the Mercedes team.  Having established his legacy predominantly at Ferrari, Schumacher’s change of employer is the equivalent of playing your whole career for the Yankees and then deciding to make a comeback for the Red Sox.  Regardless of switched allegiances, his return can only be a good thing for the sport, and if this year’s season lives up to the hype, F1 fans are in for quite a treat, and really that’s all that matters.

MP

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The Genesis

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

It’s February 9, 2010, and today represents the beginning of a new chapter in my life as this is my first post on my first blog ever.  I gave an exorbitant amount of thought and consideration as to what I would write about.   What frontier of modern life do I want to delve into and explore deeper?  Sports?  Art?  Music?  Food?  Politics?  Pop culture?  All of the above?  This seem more daunting than I originally thought it would be.  Time to find my happy place and contemplate.

One of my favorite things to do is eat.  One of my mottos in life is I work to live, and I live to eat.  I think all day about what I want to eat for my next meal, and I dream at night about what I want to eat the next day.  I don’t see the world through colors, but through flavors.  Red velvet, blue ginger, bacon chalupa.  In many ways I think of myself as a male version of Julia Child, although as a 5’10” Korean male, I look nothing like her.  Regardless of our physical attributes, I feel as though she is my kindred spirit, a sister from another mother, and not to get all Julie Powell on you, but when I cook, I get the sense she is in the room with me, an invisible hand guiding mine, and that I am not alone.  By the way, how great was Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia?  Foolproof mayonnaise!  Confront the duck!  PAUL!  The only issue I have with writing about food is cooking for me is an escape, and I’m worried that writing about it would feel more like an obligation, which is the last thing I need right now.  Maybe I’ll steal Powell’s idea and work my way through a cookbook and write an occasional post about a recipe that I recreated, and then eventually parlay it into a movie deal.  I think I’ll start with Richard Bayless’ “Mexico – One Plate at a Time.”  Baby steps.

As a former athlete and borderline sports fanatic, it seemed logical that I write on the subject, but a few things deterred me from going down this route.  First of all, which sport(s) would I write about?

Baseball?  Too boring, too antiquated, and way too corrupt.  I’ll leave that to someone who cares enough, enough said.

Football?  Too brutish, too popular, and as someone who never played the game at an organized level besides college intramural and beach flag versions, too foreign in a personal sense, although scoring a touchdown is one of the greatest feelings in all of sport.  But shout out to the Saints, New Orleans, Sean Payton, and Brees & Co. for their first Super Bowl victory.  And special props to Tracy Porter for his ridiculous haircut and equally impressive TAINT(Touchdown After INTerception).  As they say down in Nawlins, Laissez les bons temps rouler, or let the good times roll!  I imagine it must be a shit show down South right now, and if I were MTV, I would send the Jersey Shore kids down there stat!  I’d put three cameras just on Snookie/Snickers/Snuggles to capture all the action(Snooks, look out for that grenade’s left hook!).  On another note, how disappointed were you with the commercials?  I dare you to name your top five favorite clips, if you can remember that many.  All I can remember is a swarm of crappy Doritos commercials, E-Trade babies, and Go-Daddy floozies.  But I do distinctively remember the nerdy yet discreetly hot chick from the U.S. Census ad.  In case you missed it, check it out:

And don’t even get me started on the halftime show!  How boring was The Who?  The stage was impressive visually, but it seemed to have the effect of shifting the focus away from the act and the music, and judging by the band’s performance, I suspect was intentional by design.  And thumbs down to Pete Townshend for not buttoning his shirt’s bottom button(s), his stomach was flopping all over the place as he was doing his windmill strumming.  So not hot.  I submit as evidence Exhibit 1.

My friends and I were all in unanimous agreement that next year’s act should be Jay-Z and Beyonce, or even Lady Gaga, as my friend’s fiance so aptly suggested.  And if you’re not convinced about her universal appeal, I challenge you to watch these clips.

This, my readers, is Lady Gaga, and she is a force to be reckoned with and demands to be seen.  But I digress…

Basketball?  I love the game, it’s FANTASTIC!  But my friend Danny already writes for RealGm.com and covers the Warriors, so that was a closed door, although if I did write on hoops I would cover the league as a whole and not focus primarily on what I believe is the worst team in the league in the Warriors(take that, overzealous Bay Area sports fans!).

Soccer(or futbol)?  Again, I love the sport, I love my Didier Drogba and by default Chelsea, but my friend Charles already writes a blog on Arsenal and his beloved Gunners at goonsofanarchy, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge that puts mine to shame.  But hey, at least my team(and by that I really mean Drogba) trounced the Gunners 2-0 yesterday at Stamford Bridge.  And did you see Drogba’s second goal, which was absolutely world class, not to mention his near free kick hat trick attempt that hit the crossbar?  We are all witnesses.

What about a less popular but equally entertaining(IMO) sport like tennis?  As a former player, there is something about the sport that is poetic yet athletic, graceful yet visceral, but the truth is I now only watch the major tournaments, and my passion for the sport has waned to an extent, so the notion of writing about it feels somewhat disingenuous and unfulfilling.  The sport has entered a new era, the Power era so to speak, and American tennis seems to be in somewhat of a lull, at least on the men’s side.  The Williams’ sisters are a tour de force, and so is Federer, who is the Greatest of All Time, an assertion to which my friend Michael, a Sampras disciple, would vehemently disagree.  But who will take the mantle once their time has passed?  It’s an interesting time in tennis, Russian and Eastern European women have taken over the sport, and on the men’s side it’s pretty wide open, although Andy Murray seems intent on becoming the first English wanker since Fred Perry to win a major tournament in 74 years.  74 years!  You blokes invented the sport, yet you suck at it!

What about motorsport?  Some people consider auto racing to be less of a sport and more of a spectacle, but usually they are speaking from a position of ignorance, and it’s about more than just crashes, burnouts, and loud noises.  In the spirit of Animal Farm, all motorsports are created equal, but some are more equal than others.  NASCAR?  Perhaps the most equal in the sense that everyone drives the same car for the most part, but it also requires the least amount of skill in that they drive predominantly around in circles on oval tracks and therefore just draft behind each other.  NASCAR drivers are the anti-Derek Zoolanders of auto racing, they can only turn left(MAGNUM!).  Personally, I find NASCAR to be an absolute snoozer, but I can see why their fans, and by that I mean hicks and rednecks from the South, find it so appealing, having been to a few races myself.  I mean, who doesn’t love RV’ing, 1&2’ing in port-a-potties, drinking Bud Light & Miller High Lifes and tailgating for an entire weekend? Answer: Me and anyone else who grew up in a city whose name that didn’t end in ville, town, or shack, although I do love beer and tailgating.  Besides, there are other motorsports besides NASCAR that are just as popular and merit consideration(to NASCAR fans: I know that’s crazy talk, you mean there are auto racing circuits in the world?  In the name of the father, son, and Dale Earnhardt, such blasphemy!)  I am getting warmer though.

If you happen to be a fan of motorsport, then you’ve probably heard of Formula One, which is for all intents and purposes the pinnacle of auto racing.  Chances are however, you’ve never watched a Formula One race, but that’s ok, it doesn’t make you a bad person, just a clueless one(JK!).   I don’t blame you for not knowing about F1; it’s predominantly based in Europe, it’s rarely on network TV(Fox does broadcast 3-4 races a year, but it’s primarily on the Speed channel, which isn’t even standard on most cable or satellite carriers), and because of the time zone differences it’s usually on anywhere from 1-7 am on Sunday mornings.  But it’s the ultimate jetsetter pastime: billionaires & millionaires and their posses drinking wine on their yachts in Monaco or luxury boxes in Abu Dhabi, soaking in the sun, sights, and sounds, watching cars go fast, and in general just being fabulous.  And some of the most iconic names in all of motorsport created their legacy in F1; Names like Andretti, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen, and Bernie.  Manufacturers like Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, Renault, and Red Bull.  It’s a symphony of metal and rubber(although for decades now the cars are made predominantly of carbon fiber), flesh and bone, guts and glory, and it delights all the senses, and stings the nostrils.  Plus, I’ve been following the sport for quite awhile now, so I have enough knowledge and intuition to provide a perspective that I feel would be insightful yet entertaining, educational but not condescending.  Winner, winner, chicken dinner.  And if you’re not convinced, check out a few of these clips:

Are you not entertained?  Ah screw it, I love a good fenderbender as much at the next person, you want it, you got it!

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/47090/formula_1_crash_collection/

Thinking about motorsport led me down another avenue.  What sport is inherently individual in nature yet demands the instruction and guidance of teachers and teammates?  What sport respects and preserves the traditions of the past, yet looks forward to a brave new world to define its foundation and history?  What sport uses terms like warrior, champion, epic, and attrition?  What sport gave us nicknames like the Prodigy, the Carpenter, and the Axe Murderer?   Give up?  Mixed Martial Arts.  Whether you’re a fan or vehemently outspoken against it, MMA is the sport of the future, whether you like it or not.  In some parts of the world the sport has literally and figuratively taken over entire neighborhoods and cities, and it has created not just new traditions, but a way of life.  Many opponents against MMA say it promotes violence, hostility, and a general state of lawlessness.  I believe the exact opposite.  I believe that MMA has given to many a new path towards acceptance and understanding of one’s self and their environment, and it instills a newfound appreciation for life that wasn’t there before.  MMA fosters discipline, respect, and honor, while empowering an individual to live his life as he sees fit.  It is the sport of gladiators and historians, it turns cowards into heroes, and boys into men(and even girls into women now).   Like any other sport, there will also be the bad seeds who will try to poison their opponents with their hatred, mercenaries who care about nothing else but themselves, and it is unfortunate that MMA has given them an outlet to unleash their animosity upon others.  But the beauty of the sport is that like karma, the forces of time, nature, and their own hubris will catch up to them, and eventually they will fall from their false pedestals and disappear like ghosts, and the darkness from their shadows will only be a distant memory and nothing more.  MMA is still in its infancy compared to almost every other sport out there, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so exciting to be a fan right now.  We are entering uncharted territory, and it looks like it’s going to be one hell of a ride.  Here’s just a preview of what you’re missing out on:

So it sounds like I’m starting to define my niche, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at so far.  I can’t guarantee that every post will be golden, but I can promise that I will be true to myself and my perspective.   Motorsport, MMA, and pop culture all rolled into one, but with a twist.  I can live with that, and hopefully you can too.  As far as the name of the blog goes, I like it, but like everything else in life, it’s a work in progress.  That’s all for now, but this is only the beginning, and it’s about the journey, not the destination.

MP

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