The Tail-End, pt. 2 – Markus Winkelhock

This sort of fell by the wayside a bit – I’ve been trying to do a piece on the three new teams that entered Formula 1 in 2010, but covering six cars and twenty-something drivers in a collective 200+ races over seven years got me haplessly bogged down in fog-laden Wikipedia marshland.

So, since the official Formula 1 Facebook page reminded me that it’s his birthday just gone on 13th June, let’s go for something a bit more focused on one driver. One race. And one glorious, historic day for a man even relatively hardened fans are unlikely to remember in great detail.

Markus Winkelhock - Wikiwand
If/when the racing opportunities dry up, he could do worse than a Willem Dafoe body double, if Willem Dafoe also had all his creases ironed out.

 

Born in Stuttgart in 1980, motor racing was always going to be in Markus Winkelhock’s blood – his father Manfred participated in several F1 races for a variety of backmarkers in the early 1980s, before his untimely death in a sports car crash when Markus was only five years old. His uncle Joachim also had a brief shot at F1, albeit never managing to qualify his AGS car for a race, before having more success in British Touring Cars and German Super Tourenwagen, and winning the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hour race; another uncle, Thomas, has raced in Formula 3 and European Touring Cars.

Markus’s own career advanced steadily over the 1990s and early 2000s, through karting and local series Formula König, to German Formula Renault and Formula 3. Reaching a plateau at this point, he spent the next few years alternating between racing saloon cars in the DTM series (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters), and single-seaters in the Renault World Series, recording respectable but not outstanding results.

Third place overall in the 2005 RWS championship was enough to catch the eye of Colin Kolles, managing director of the newly-formed Midland F1 team, a Russian-backed enterprise that had just bought out and rebranded the dying giant that was Jordan Grand Prix. Kolles invited Markus to test the new M16 car in Spain in December 2005, and afterwards the young German excitedly relayed this “unforgettable experience” to the media as something that gave him a “hunger for more”. A month later, Kolles granted him such a chance, announcing him as one of the team’s official test and reserve drivers for the 2006 season.

While the car never looked like becoming a race winner, Midland gradually ascended from a clear last place to battling the lower midfield over the course of the year, and while Markus didn’t get a chance to race it, he drove in four Grand Prix practice sessions during the season and tested elsewhere, and could consider his efforts with the M16 to have contributed in some small way to his team’s small success. When Midland was sold in the autumn to Dutch luxury car makers Spyker, Winkelhock’s services were retained on paper, but with a swathe of other drivers also suddenly contracted by the new owners, either with more sponsorship than him (Ádrian Válles, Fairuz Fauzy) or the advantage of being Dutch (Giedo van der Garde), another chance of driving seemed distant. Markus returned to racing touring cars in Germany, with little in the way of strong results.

Luck smiled on him in July 2007, however – Spyker released race driver Christijan Albers at short notice after the British Grand Prix, in part due to lack of sponsorship money, in part due to being outperformed by teammate Adrian Sutil, and in part due to a bad-tempered falling out after the previous race in France, in which he had accelerated away from a pit stop before the fuel hose had been removed from the car, leaving a high-octane spray down the pit lane and his team and onlookers “mystified” at his “stupidity”.

Spyker wanted Sakon Yamamoto in the seat, a Japanese driver with a large wallet, but he and most of their contracted reserves either weren’t available to get to Germany at short notice for the European Grand Prix*, or had never driven at the track before. Kolles, still retained as a director at the team, realised that only one man fit the bill – a man with significant racing experience at the circuit, whose father had made his last Formula 1 start at the same venue – and made the phone call. Markus’s moment had come.

Arriving as an F1 racing rookie, in what was once again the slowest car on the grid and with a grand total of three days’ experience driving said car, expectations were as low as could be, er, expected. Grappling with the unwieldy, hideously orange, and terribly-named Spyker F8-VII as best he could, Winkelhock unsurprisingly qualified 22nd out of 22 entrants, four and a half seconds off Kimi Räikkönen’s pole-sitting Ferrari, and a second and a half off Sutil, who was 21st in the other Spyker. But Markus used the small flurry of media attention he received as the new kid on the block to describe just finally being there at 27 years old as “a dream come true”, adding that it had made his mum “a bit emotional” to see him achieve the same heights his father had two decades before.

He could never have imagined what was to come the following day.

Teams Praying for Warm Weather at Nurburgring
A standard Nürburg skyline, yesterday.

 

The Eifel mountains in which the Nürburgring racetrack lies have a notorious micro-climate of their own, with weather changing rapidly and unexpectedly**. As the cars left the grid for their warm-up lap on the stroke of one o’clock on 22nd July 2007, the track was bone-dry, but heavy grey clouds moved in as they circulated, and by the time the front runners had emerged from the final corner and were pulling up to their starting positions, the first flecks of rain had begun to fall. At the last split-second, as he was approaching the final corner himself, Winkelhock’s crew told him to dive instead into the pits…

Some thirty seconds later, the five red lights went out, and the race began in earnest. In the brief time between the drivers arriving at the first corner on the warm-up and arriving at racing speed, the track had already become damp, and it seemed a distraction, as the two BMW-Saubers collided and spun at Turn 2, followed by David Coulthard’s Red Bull skidding wide at Turn 5. A few more bumps and scrapes and trips over the grass occurred over the first lap, as the precipitation became heavier with every passing second. Räikkönen still led as they reached the end of the lap, and went to make the switch to intermediate (not-wet-but-not-dry) tyres, but the pit lane entry was so slick already that he slid straight on, clattered over the kerbs separating it from the racetrack proper, and was forced to continue for another lap on dry-weather tyres.

Most of the rest of the field managed to make it in to change onto intermediate tyres, but by the time they left the pits the rain was pulsating down, hissing off the tarmac, and the intermediates were already struggling to clear sufficient water from beneath the cars to prevent them aquaplaning and skating off. By the time they had scrambled around to begin the third lap, rivulets were coursing across the track, and a veritable torrent was pouring down the start-finish straight, collecting in a basin at the downhill hairpin of Turn 1. Wet-weather expert Jenson Button, up to fourth place in the conditions, was the first to slide straight off into the wall at that corner, followed immediately by championship leader Lewis Hamilton. Sutil joined them, and then Rosberg, Speed, Davidson, Liuzzi – the world’s most expensive scrapyard grew at an alarming rate.

By this point, despite accidentally skipping a pitstop, Räikkönen, and everyone else, had long since been left in the mist… by Markus Winkelhock. Fitting the full-treaded wet tyres before a pit lane start had been a masterstroke / handsome gamble from Spyker, and Markus was making full dividends in his driving. Even once other drivers had fitted full wets too, they couldn’t keep pace with him, because he had been able to get more heat into the rubber while the track was merely damp than they now could when it was utterly drenched. The hotter the tyres, the better the grip; the better the grip, the faster he could go; and the faster he went, the hotter the tyres got, even as the storm was lashing down.

In short, it was a beautiful upward spiral of performance, and the opposite was true for the other twenty-one runners. As they juddered their way around like grease-coated supermarket trolleys on roller skates on an ice-covered newly-polished parquet floor, the SS Winkelhock sailed serenely along the straights, smooth as a clipper ship, and through the bends as though the car were on submerged rails, like that train in Spirited Away. Having started his own race long after the rest of the grid had negotiated the first corner, he had caught and passed everyone who came into the pits to change tyres a lap after he had, overcame Räikkönen halfway around the second lap, was twenty seconds ahead of his closest rival by lap three, and THIRTY-THREE seconds clear by lap four. I don’t believe in miracles, but as I watched that live on telly, I swear I could hear a divine choir singing something exalted from the great beyond, the realm of the transcendent. It was sublime.

On lap five, the race director showed the red flag, and stopped proceedings on safety grounds.

2007: Formula 1 all at sea in Nürburgring deluge | F1i.com
The graveyard of racing ambition, a.k.a. Turn 1 at the European Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton, in a fit of ingenuity, drove away again after the recovery crane had deposited his car back onto the track, and rejoined the race – a practice that was *specifically* banned afterwards.

When the race resumed twenty minutes later, the rain had stopped, and hot July sunshine was steam-drying the circuit as quickly as it had been soaked. Spyker decided, having rolled the dice successfully once already, to keep Markus on wet tyres as he led the field away behind the Safety Car, looking for another favour from the racing gods. It wasn’t to be.

As soon as the green flags were out and actual racing began again, Felipe Massa’s Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren immediately got the better of Winkelhock into Turn 1. By the end of the lap he was down to eighth, and soon after was back where everyone had expected him to stay all weekend, holding up the rear of the field until a hydraulic failure brought his race to a premature end on lap 15.

It did rain again, though – from lap 52 until the chequered flag on lap 60.

Despite the enormous acclaim he received for his unexpected star début, from the teams as much as his newly-won fans, money spoke louder, and Yamamoto was in the Spyker for the next race in Hungary, and indeed all remaining races in 2007. Without another F1 drive on the horizon for 2008, Markus returned yet again to DTM for the next three years, finishing no race higher than fourth. A switch to GT sports car racing seemed to suit him far better, and in 2012 he won the premier GT1 series alongside teammate Marc Basseng, and was runner-up in the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup***. He is currently second in the 2018 standings of the same series, having just won the British round at Brands Hatch in the Pro-Am category.

Formule 1 2017, saison de F1 - Motorsport.com
Winkelhock during his moment in the opposite-of-sun.

Whilst it was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it in the grander scheme of the sport, his sole Formula 1 entry places Winkelhock in an extraordinary niche of the record books. He is one of a very, very select number of drivers to lead a race having started outside the top 20, and is the only one to do so on his début. Having restarted the race from an effective pole position, he is arguably the only driver ever to begin the same Grand Prix from the back and the front. Though I haven’t done a comprehensive check, he almost certainly holds a record for the most places gained in a single lap, for the fastest progress through the field from last to first, and the biggest difference in lap times between one driver and the rest of the grid on any single tour. And since it was also his last Grand Prix, Markus Winkelhock is the only driver to lead 100% of the Formula 1 races he has ever entered: a record that can only be equalled, never broken.

So, happy 38th birthday, and here’s to you, Markus.

~Adam

 

Formula 1 Fans On Google+ - Google+
#NoOneCanBreakTheWinkelRock

 

*Despite being the only race in Germany that year, the race was not called the “German Grand Prix” due to a contractual dispute with the Hockenheimring circuit, which would settle for alternating the race with the Nürburgring for the next several years. It’s the same sort of reason that the series ranked between Formula 1 and Formula 3 was called “Formula 3000” for some twenty years (after its 3000cc engine capacity).

**A trait shared with the similarly famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit, just across the border in the Ardennes forests of Belgium. A further trait of Spa, and of the older, much longer version of the Nürburgring, is that the weather can be entirely different at opposite ends of the vast circuits, magnifying the challenge of the conditions.

***He also did a one-off race for Audi in the Finnish round of the 2014 World Rallycross Championship, because why the diddly heck not?

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The Tail-End, pt.1 – MasterCard Lola

In the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series throughout this year’s Formula 1 season, I’m going to delve into the history of some of the sport’s… less than luminary teams and drivers. Here be dragons – some of the most dismal and abject failures in motor racing, from the sublimely unlucky to the ridiculously incompetent.

Coming off the back of this year’s season opener in Australia, let’s cast our eyes back to the 1997 race, in which no less than four new teams made their débuts.

 

The Spice Girls Were The Biggest Girl Group In The World
1997, yesterday

 

Well, sort of. Two of them were rebrandings – the Footwork team reverting to their original name Arrows following a sponsorship change, and the Ligier team was bought out and renamed Prost. Two teams, however, were entering the 1997 season entirely from scratch: Scottish start-ups Stewart Grand Prix (who actually raced cars with actual tartan go-faster stripes), and Anglo-American outfit MasterCard Lola Racing.

For over thirty years prior, Lola Cars had been a successful chassis builder and supplier/partner to various teams in lower formulae. They had first ventured briefly into F1 with BYC Racing in 1962, bringing John Surtees to 4th in that year’s world championship. They then supplied Hill Racing in 1974-5, before this was abruptly curtailed when founder Graham Hill, driver Tony Brise, and several core personnel were killed in a plane crash, ending the team and Lola’s F1 participation at a stroke.

After another hiatus they returned building monocoques for the Larrousse team from 1987-91; this partnership was a modest success, with a handful of pointscoring results including Aguri Suzuki taking a sensational third-placed finish in front of his home fans at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix. Money ran dry for Larrousse, however, and after leaving the French outfit over unpaid bills at the end of 1991, Lola had one more joint F1 venture with Italian privateers Brixia Motor Sport in 1993, but this was a total flop. Enough was enough – Lola principal Keith Wiggin decided that if they were going to truly succeed at the top level of motorsport, they had to do it right, and as such do it all themselves.

Poaching a couple of designers from the Benetton and Williams teams, they designed, built, and future F1 driver and Le Mans winner Allan McNish tested the T95/30 car at Silverstone in early 1995. But without a major sponsor, the car was never financially feasible to race, and was immediately obsolete in any case when sweeping new technical regulations were introduced shortly after its test. So the team went hunting the money, and in MasterCard, they found an eager backer.

 

Lola F1 Test Car.jpg
The T95/30. McNish once cartwheeled a sportscar over a concrete wall at Le Mans, and the result still looked more aerodynamically slick than this… [FORIX / Autosport.com]

Lola originally intended to prepare for the 1998 season, but their new sponsor pressured the team to enter a year earlier than scheduled; MasterCard had some kind of exclusive “Gold Club”-esque scheme planned, whereby its credit card users could sign up to invest in the team’s prospects, and would receive dividends and “special privileges” in return. How precisely this would work was never really explained at the time; nonetheless, the money talked, and Lola complied.

However, with this massively reduced timeframe suddenly in place, the racing team had a mammoth task on their hands (if you’ve ever tried to last-minute a uni project, this may make uncomfortable/reassuring reading). Design of the car only began in November 1996, once a sufficient team of composites engineers, aerodynamicists, gearbox designers and so on had been hastily assembled; Stewart had already begun the same process as early as January of the same year, complete with securing extensive backing from the HSBC bank, and a works Ford V10 engine. Wiggin had already quit leading the team by this point, perhaps with a sense of foreboding over what was to come.

 

Image result for stewart sf01
In case you didn’t believe the “tartan go-faster stripes” bit. Perhaps Lola should’ve gone with some, too…

 

With new team principal Eric Broadley in place, Lola signed their two drivers for the 1997 campaign just before Christmas. Ricardo Rosset had driven for Footwork/Arrows the previous year; he scored no points and was outqualified sixteen times out of sixteen by teammate Jos Verstappen, but the Brazilian brought vital sponsorship from Lycra, Safra Bank and Track & Field Clothing. Vincenzo Sospiri had been a teammate of Rosset’s in Formula 3000 in 1995; they had finished first and second in the championship respectively, and the Italian spent 1996 as test driver for reigning F1 champions Benetton, as well as bringing sponsorship from the Cosmo Gas company. Sospiri was considered by some a world-beater in the making, while Rosset was not, but it was probably the best compromise between talent and bank balance on offer at three months’ notice.

Of course, who was driving would be academic without a car to drive, and Lola had only started building a 50% scale wind tunnel and buying facilities to house their engine department by January. With basically zero other R&D resources available yet, the main body of the car was based on designs from Lola’s American IndyCar and Formula 3000 projects, wrangled to fit Formula 1 regulatory dimensions – almost a “cut and shut” sort of botch job.

As was almost inevitable, the in-house Lola V10 engines they had intended to use were nowhere near being ready in time; swallowing what pride they still had, the team bought fifteen one-year-old Ford Zetec-R V8s, a weaker hand-me-down version of the engines Stewart were given (you can almost picture them coming off the back of a van), meaning the designers had mere weeks to repackage the entire rear end of the car to accommodate a different power unit from the one they’d already shaped it around.

The Lola T97/30 was unveiled at the London Hilton hotel on 24th February, just eleven days before the first practice session in Australia was to start; the prototype car had finished being assembled the night before (again, for perspective, Stewart’s challenger had been revealed back on 19th December). Speaking at the launch event, Broadley announced the team’s goal to be scoring championship points in its first season, meaning a top-6 finish in those days, and to be world champions by the year 2000 – another stipulation of MasterCard’s long-term investment. As GrandPrix.com noted even at the time, “A large percentage of people in the F1 paddock are willing to bet large sums of money that this will not happen…”

The car hadn’t once seen the inside of a wind tunnel to test the aerodynamics, and the V10s now weren’t expected to be designed until the summer, nor raced until 1998. While other teams had spent weeks pounding in hundreds of laps around venues in England, Italy and Portugal, the T97/30s had the sum total of some straight-line speed tests at the Santa Pod drag strip in Northamptonshire, and two days of circuit running at Silverstone, before they had to be flown to Melbourne.

 

F1Lola1997.jpg
Mind that axiom, “Better to be smarter than you look, than look smarter than you are?” That, but replace “smarter” with “faster”. Except the Lola was neither fast nor fast-looking. [Mathijs Diepraam]

The team arrived at the Albert Park circuit for the first race of the season, and qualifying was held on 8th March 1997. The expectations of both Lola and the paddock at large, which had been getting more modest by the day, turned out still to be much, much too high. The cars were an abomination. They didn’t accelerate with any urgency, slithered from side to side under braking, steered with jarring, helmet-rattling, motion-sickness-inducing jerks in both fast and slow corners, changed gear with the smoothness of unhewn granite, and looked to be coasting even when at full throttle down the straights. In 1996 the sport had brought in the “107% rule”, meaning a backmarker’s best qualifying lap had to be within that percentage of the fastest car’s time in order to be allowed to start the race the following day.

 

lola
Um, Eric? About that winning-the-2000-championship thing…?

 

Sospiri, the faster of the two, was not only 11.6 seconds off Jacques Villeneuve’s admittedly stunning pole position lap, but precisely 5 seconds off the next-slowest car, Pedro Diniz in an Arrows-Yamaha. Rosset was a further 1.1 seconds behind his teammate. While Diniz was allowed to start on appeal, having set quicker times in earlier practice sessions, the Lolas hadn’t a chance in hell. Their drivers, and other personnel, were spectators for Sunday’s race.

Things got little better at the following Silverstone test either, held between the Australian and Brazilian races; small set-up changes shaved a second or so off the times, but they were still far from beating the crucial 107% marker. A few days after that came the hammer blow; MasterCard, dismayed at the discovery that rushing into the sport a year ahead of the plan was in fact a Bad Idea™, pulled the plug on the sponsorship contract. It also hadn’t helped that many of MasterCard’s banking partners were wary of their membership investment scheme that had made an abortive start in February – such as, say, HSBC, who understandably baulked at supporting something that would be directly funding a rival to the Stewart team. Lola were sunk.

The team still flew out to Sao Paolo for the next race at Interlagos, but the cars never left the garage; with MasterCard having withdrawn every penny of funding and other sponsors fleeing in response, Ford refused to allow their still-on-hire-purchase engines to be used by the team. On March 31st, less than six months after formally entering the World Championship, Lola formally withdrew from it.

Stewart Grand Prix would go on to take a pole position, a race victory, and four other podium finishes before being sold to Ford at the end of 1999, and rebranded as Jaguar Racing.

Ricardo Rosset drove the 1998 season for the cash-strapped Tyrrell F1 team before they both also vanished from F1, where he performed so poorly and was so disliked by his engineers that they transposed the “R” and “T” in his surname on whatever decals they could.

Vincenzo Sospiri, almost certainly the more talented of the two, never got another F1 drive.

MasterCard went on to be minor sponsors of the Jordan team later the very same year.

And Lola Cars went bankrupt altogether in May 1997, a truly miserable end to what had been a well-renowned and respected company.

 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/19/MasterCard_Lola_Formula_One_Team_logo.jpg
Number of Formula 1 races entered: 1 or 2, depending on whether you count Brazil
Number of Formula 1 races qualified for: 0
Debts racked up to Ford and other suppliers in six months: $6,000,000+
The schadenfreude felt for Eric Broadley: priceless

 

~Adam

 

Formula 1 2018: Season “Review”

…because previews are so overrated. Here I come, from the distant future of December 2018, with a bit of crystal balls for you about how this upcoming Formula 1 season will unfold. Hold on to your Halos, kids!

 

* * *

 

AUSTRALIA

The 2018 season gets off to a stunning start for the Antipodean crowd, as Danny Ricciardo takes a home victory he describes as “pretty cool, guys” between bouts of loud growling and teeth-gnashing. However, even this is overshadowed by Brendon Hartley’s Strawberry Jelly leading until running out of fuel shortly after half distance, the Toro Rosso team still unwilling to believe a Honda engine could last more than 30 laps tops in race trim. It’s also a banner day for Esteban Ocon, who secures his first podium for ₰ᾮאӜ҉ѾѬѮϠζ [a.k.a. The Racing Team Formerly Known As Force India].

 

BAHRAIN

A Safety Car start is needed in Sakhir, as an unseasonal snowstorm brings several inches of precipitate to lay on the racetrack (and loud contemptuous mockery from the Circuit de Catalunya owners). Being the only driver to have tested Pirelli’s recently-unveiled range of snow-chain tyres, Max Verstappen is a comfortable winner, though Kimi Raikkonen seemed to know what he was doing prior to over-egging a four-wheel slide, and barrel-rolling into a drift on the outside of Turn 4. With an excellent fourth-place finish in the increasingly impressive Toro Rosso, Pierre Gasly earns enough EXP points to evolve into Pierre Haunter.

 

CHINA

Having tested it extensively, albeit surreptitiously, over the winter, Ferrari introduce their dastardly “smokescreen” exhaust, in a bid to offset the overtaking advantage gained from DRS down the Shanghai circuit’s long back straight. However, it makes little difference when racing in the smog of the Chinese city, and Lewis Hamilton wins, remarking on the podium that the dense choking air reminds him of childhood days playing outdoors in Stevenage.

 

AZERBAIJAN

Baku 2018 is a farce of a race; human rights protesters storm the castle keep at Turn 8, using crossbows at random to inflict punctures and pouring vats of oil onto the racetrack, which Charles LeClerc later claimed actually made his Sauber handle better. Ocon comes through the chaos to take a début win for himself and for the re-renamed Richmond & Twickenham Times and Surrey Comet Racing Team, having finally found a short-term buyer in the team’s local newspaper publishers.

 

SPAIN

Pundits note Fernando Alonso of “Jaffa Cakes McLaren-Renault” strutting around the paddock with a knowing grin throughout practice and qualifying, in spite of having retired from the opening four rounds and qualified well down the field in Barcelona. “Wait and see, wait and see!” is all the hometown hero has to say in response.

At the end of the warm-up lap Alonso unexpectedly dives into the pits, emerging in a spare car with new hypersoft tyres, and a 2004 Ferrari V10 engine jammed awkwardly into the airbox. Taking off from pit exit before the five red lights have come on, the papaya projectile rockets around the circuit, leading the race by over half a minute by the time the engine goes up like a grenade after three-and-a-half laps. Fernando leaps out of the burning car, sprints through the crowd whooping and cartwheeling and shedding his gloves, boots and helmet. He reaches his underpants just before divebombing with a triumphant shriek of GP2 CAAAAARRR!!!…” into the lake in the centre of the racetrack.

Someone else presumably wins the Spanish Grand Prix, but nobody notices.

 

MONACO

Continuing with its tireless (HA!) pursuit of new and exciting compounds, Pirelli’s Paul Hembery announces, with a sinister giggle, a “giga-soft” option, which is essentially a bucket of molten rubber painted onto the rims; Sebastian Vettel sets a new track record for fastest first-50-metres of the Monte Carlo venue before his tyres meet “The Cliff”. After practice, Toro Rosso trade their Pierre Gengar for a Jean Squirtle with recently upgraded Special Defense stats and Surf ability; it proves to be a wise move, their new Water-Type driver winning after a freak tidal wave washes over Tabac corner on the second lap, sending the top ten qualifiers bobbing into the harbour.

 

CANADA

Freshly inspired from their triumph at the previous round, Toro Rosso release Brendon Hartley’s Strawberry Jelly to go back to WEC and being a Hanson tribute band stand-in; he is replaced with up-and-coming star Bruce Original Thick-Cut Marmalade. Lance Stroll takes the chequered flag but the trophy is awarded to Marcus Ericsson as, unfortunately, race officials still can’t tell the Williams and Sauber cars apart, and the FIA are too embarrassed on their behalf to intervene.

 

FRANCE

Despite having served their two-race ban for Fernando’s Glorious Spanish Adventure as it is henceforth known, “Irn-Bru McLaren-Renault” have their cars seized at the Paul Ricard track entrance by the French food standards authority, impounding them over the team’s false advertising of a “drink” on their vehicles. Romain Grosjean wins on home soil, after a mysterious bout of food poisoning afflicts the rest of the paddock; in the following week, sales of his cookbook amongst pest controllers increase by 700%.

 

AUSTRIA

Paul Hembery announces, with an ominous chuckle, the introduction of a “micro-soft” tyre option, where the rubber will only be Photoshopped onto the wheels in post-production, but a writ from Bill Gates means the compound goes unused beyond first practice. Sebastian Vettel wins, as Ferrari choose to invoke the clause in a newly signed contract with Liberty Media stating “…it is agreed We [Scuderia Ferrari] shall take a Victory (1st-placed race finish) in no fewer than 1 (one) Formula One Grand Prix per calendar season, in respect of our outstanding historical importance and stuff, so there, nyah to stinky Mercedes bum-heads [sticking-out-tongue emoji]”.

 

BRITAIN

Despite the venue being moved to a marina in the Cayman Islands (for “optimal rain-avoidance purposes”, according to a BRDC statement) Lewis Hamilton still errs on the side of caution and skips the race, just in case someone from Revenue & Customs decides to linger around his motorhome for too long. Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas and Ricciardo complete the top 3, and Kimi is adopted as a dual-nationality Brit after an intense shoey-off with pints of John Smith’s instead of champagne (Brexit’s effect now in full swing).

 

GERMANY

A pan-global conglomerate of nostalgic ’80s and ’90s racing fans invest in Pérez and Ocon’s ailing team, and Jordan-Minardi-Lotus-March-Brabham-Benetton-Onyx-Toleman-Leyton House-Zakspeed-Andrea Moda Racing take their first start in Hockenheim. Unfortunately, they don’t fare so well, as their stakeholders insist on the drivers using the old track through the forest, and thus completing only 45 laps, not to mention producing a hellish storm of litigation from Greenpeace. A first win, and thus podium, for Nico Hulkenberg opens a rift in the space-time continuum on the rostrum that inadvertently sucks in several German dignitaries and driver interviewer Eddie Jordan, who is somehow nonetheless able to conduct shouty, banal proceedings from the other side of the eternal, abysmal void.

 

HUNGARY

Lance Stroll is replaced with Robert Kubica before qualifying, as the Canadian accidentally left his credit card in a service station off the A43 and missed his next due payment. Alonso’s car breaks down while leading on the last lap, handing victory to Bottas, and he announces his immediate retirement before hiring a helicopter and air-dropping his chassis through the roof of McLaren’s Woking headquarters.

 

BELGIUM

Over the summer break McLaren take Alonso to the European Court of Justice, citing breach of contract; Alonso responds by taking McLaren to the European Court of Human Rights, citing “cruel and unusual punishment”. The judge decides in the Spaniard’s favour, meaning he wins something for the first time in over five years. Jolyon Palmer signs as his replacement, and within seconds of driving the car finally understands what Alonso meant by “karma” all those months ago. Kevin Magnussen wins, to the delight of his merchandise team, who have struggled all year to shift punnets of his personally branded “Salted Caramel and Honey Chocolate Balls”.

 

ITALY

Pirelli’s Paul Hembery announces, with undisguised maniacal laughter, a “massive-and-rock-hard” compound; Hamilton takes pole position, but parks up only a few laps in after the monster-truck-style tyres rattle the gold fillings out of his teeth, and he scrambles out to retrieve them as they jangle down the pit straight. As dentistry bills soar up and down the grid, Stoffel Vandoorne takes a shock victory for “Terry’s Chocolate Orange McLaren-Renault”; Fernando, watching from home, turns off his television and giggles quietly to himself for several hours, before buying and securing himself in a straitjacket, and hopping into his nearest psychiatric clinic, cheerfully whistling “La Marseillaise”.

 

SINGAPORE

With the fan conglomerate complaining that Formula 1 still “isn’t what it used to be” despite their best efforts, they hand the team over to a mysterious entity that re-re-renames it TerraVelocity Xtreme Team. The new car is built of solid gold and platinum, and is driven by the Sultan of Brunei and Elon Musk, who in turn powers it with a Tesla Roadster engine. The heavy chassis is hopelessly slow in corners, but proves difficult to lap due to its reasonable straightline speed, its wholly unreasonable drivers, and the blinding glare off its bodywork under the streetlights. Carlos Sainz wins, because Liberty Media feel fans aren’t getting their money’s worth out of him otherwise.

 

RUSSIA

Lewis Hamilton Sergey Sirotkin wins a processional thrilling race at the Sochi Autodrom, dominating from start to finish scything through from the back in his Mercedes-Petronas Lada-Williams. Controversial President Glorious leader Vladimir Putin met a somewhat hostile warmly friendly reception from the paddock and supporters as he presented the trophy to Hamilton Sirotkin. There was also a no cyber-attack foiled to immobilise the electronics of nineteen of the twenty cars on the grid, understandable given the reasonable chance absurd unlikelihood that Sirotkin would not have been victorious without it.

 

JAPAN

Having grown bored of cycling through hilarious Pokémon- and condiment-themed drivers over the European season, Toro Rosso replace Jean-Éric Bulbasaur and Brett Low-Sugar Blackcurrant Jam with 13-year-old local protegée Juju Noda and a newly-rehabilitated Fernando Alonso. With the Honda engine working superbly at the company’s home track, Alonso and Noda qualify 1-2, but the Spaniard fades in the closing laps with muscle fatigue, not having driven a race distance in so long. Noda dedicates her phenomenal victory to her parents, her thousands of Instagram followers, and her “#racinghero #absolutemadman #lol” Taki Inoue.

 

U.S.A.

Alonso finally returns to the top step with a win in the States; he hugs his trophy in the foetal position on the podium, sobbing gently and cradling it like his newborn child. After a race-long battle, Hamilton and Vettel cross the line in a dead-heat finish, and while the FIA agree to split the points down the middle, there is still only one second-placed trophy available. Opening the rulebook, stewards are surprised to discover Liberty have included a rule stating that such scenarios are to be settled in a boxing ring. Hamilton has the initial upper hand as Sebastian complains of him “blocking” and “brake-testing” his attacks, before the German is disqualified for a below-the-belt punch with a raging cry of “Here’s a message for your Hodensack, Lewis!”.

 

MEXICO

In the wake of the “Crumple in the Jungle” in Austin, Hamilton is laid up in hospital sending out selfies like messages in bottles, and Vettel sits out a race ban by once again attempting to grow a convincing handlebar moustache. Meanwhile, in the wake of having collided one-hundred-and-thirty-seven times in the last five rounds, TVXT-Porsche Racing decide there is only one appropriate way to settle the ongoing differences between reinstated drivers Pérez and Ocon – in the Lucha Libre ring. Wearing a bubblegum-pink mask, Pérez overpowers his marshmallow-pink-masked rival in just three minutes, and it spurs him on to an emphatic victory in the race itself. Haas are a no-show at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, being unable to afford the tariffs required to get their trucks past the border wall from Texas.

 

BRAZIL

With Juju Noda grounded for having failed to finish her maths homework, Toro Rosso sign Felipe Massa for a third consecutive tear-jerking farewell tour of Interlagos, and he naturally dominates the race from lights to flag, knowing exactly where the suspension-shattering potholes are to be avoided. The Drivers’ Championship is delicately poised between the Red Bull drivers, and Max Verstappen’s pleas to have Daniil Kvyat reinstated for this race, so as to have him dropped and thus guarantee Max the win in Abu Dhabi, fall on deaf ears in Milton Keynes. After hiring a new copywriter to replace an aging employee, McLaren are mortified to discover they *have* been building GP2 chassis since 2014 – the retired colleague gripes that it wasn’t his fault the two rulebooks look so bloody similar!

 

ABU DHABI

Danny Ricciardo wins the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – the only driver to take more than one win all season – and with it his first World Championship. It’s a bittersweet occasion for the Honey Badger; as he raises his winner’s trophy aloft, the wind changes direction, fixing his beaming face in a permanently etched grin, and he is rushed to A&E before his facial muscles can solidify into a horrifying rictus of mirthless toothsomeness. Toro Rosso-Honda win the Constructors’ Title, sharing the spoils evenly between all of their drivers throughout the year, though they have to appoint a careful system of checks to weed out fraudsters claiming to have done a practice session here, a tyre test there. Unimpressed by his defeat, Max Verstappen quits Red Bull to take a gap year around the Far East, though not before his frozen sperm is signed to a multi-year contract starting 2030; Nico Rosberg’s 3-year-old daughter Alaïa has already been signed as his interim replacement, in an Aston Martin-powered pushchair.

 

* * *

 

~Adam

Why I’m Becoming a Dutch Pancake

This is a love letter, a (hopefully) honest introspection, and a personal mission statement.

“Look upon my works, ye plumbers, and despair!”
This is Super Mario 64.
Over the last twenty-two years (good lord, is that the time already?) it has enthralled and entertained millions of players, including myself* – a pioneer of the 3D platformer genre, and one of the most popular video games ever made.

From his video on why the coin score can never be more than 255 on any given level, irrespective of how many you actually collect.
This is Sean Buchanan (or, rather, his YouTube profile picture): a 23-year-old Dutch-American computer science major, better known by his online moniker “pannenkoek2012”, or “Pannen” for short (pannenkoek is the Dutch word for pancake, hence my ingenious post title).
Pannen knows Super Mario 64 better than you know your own eyelids. In fact, he probably knows it more intimately, more comprehensively, more unnecessarily, than most people will ever know a single topic in their entire lives. He played it as a child and enjoyed it a great deal, but, unlike us mere mortals who leave “completing” the game at retrieving all of the collectibles, beating the big boss and rescuing the princess, Pannen decided one day that he wanted to go further. Since 2008 (not 2012, funnily enough) he has undertaken a series of challenges, some set by others and some for himself, in an effort to truly leave no stone unturned, no coin uncollected, no enemy unquashed, absolutely nothing yet to be discovered, explored, analysed and evaluated to exhaustion.
And there is far, FAR more to it than you’d think. (This does come back to something more generalised later, so bear with me, non-gamers out there. Or skip to just past the picture of the brown mushroom thingy, we’re cool.)
His most famous accomplishments (subjective use of “fame”, I know) are in working on the A-Button Challenge – to wit, collecting all 120 Power Stars and defeating Bowser in as few presses of the “A” button as possible. To clarify, this means overcoming all of the obstacles, enemies and puzzles in 100 or so levels of a platforming game whilst doing literally anything and everything possible NOT to push what functions as the primary “jump” button (the “B” button allows for a horizontal dive, but little in the way of height).
On his first challenge attempt, Pannen took a total of 232 A-presses to reach the end of the game; over the following decade, through a mind-boggling array of tricks, glitches, shortcuts, and several pages of actual kinematic physics equations, charts and diagrams, he has proven it can now be done, at last count, in either 28, 29 or 30 presses, depending on which localised version you’re playing (different glitches in each, y’see).
Some of these “saved” presses are quite straightforward, trivial even; some require a bit of forethought for planning routes through the levels, as well as a bit of knowledge of exactly where and when to exploit enemies and environmental features to catapult Mario onto platforms that would otherwise be an issue to reach without an “A”. Others, however, involve some truly astounding efforts in order to work around the lack of jumping as an option.
In this playlist, the first video is an updated record of the remaining A-presses that Pannen has yet to eradicate from his playthrough. The second video, Level 1-1 as it were, is one of the straightforward ones to do without jumping. Level 1-2 requires a moment of planning to clear the ledge after the see-saw bridge, but nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of practice. But by Level 1-3… well, here is Pannen’s own description of how it’s done:

Diagram of how to bounce on a series of carefully-positioned enemies to reach a floating platform…

…and its accompanying equations. For science!

So, there you go.
A little further down the playlist, video #45 for Level 6-6 “Watch for Rolling Rocks – 0.5x A Presses (Commentated)” is the one that launched Pannen to internet superstardom, and first brought him to my attention. Without going into much detail on his achingly thorough 25-minute explanation of how he obtains this Star with half a push of the “A” button (don’t ask. NO, DON’T), let’s just say it introduced me to such concepts as Tool-Assisted Superplay, Scuttlebug Transportation, Scuttlebug Raising, Hyper-Speed Walking, and Quadruple-Parallel-Universe Alignment. And takes over 15 hours to pull off in real time.** “But first, we need to talk about parallel universes…” has become a joke in its own right, as has the phrase “Scuttlebug Jamboree” (which, if it isn’t already, I’m calling dibs on as my prog rock band name du jour).
And other than this A-press challenge, he has another 250 or so videos on his channel dedicated to exploring other SM64 phenomena. He completes various levels without pressing any buttons. He completes others without touching the joystick at all, thus relying solely on momentum from punches, kicks and jumps to move around, and bouncing off walls or sliding on slopes or being knocked about by enemies to change direction. He concludes that 81 Stars can be collected without picking up a single coin on route (considerably harder than it sounds) and all but one Star can be obtained without either utilising a power-up Cap, or blasting out of a cannon, complete with extensive spreadsheets detailing these.
There’s a video ranking every Star in the game in order of how many distance “units” it hovers above the ground. There’s a 37-minute pseudo-documentary detailing the differing behaviours of wall, floor, and ceiling surfaces. There’s an eight-minute video dedicated to how each character’s blinking animation is coded and synchronised.
In 2014, Pannen became the first player in history to obtain the “Impossible Coin” on Tiny-Huge Island, trapped behind a wall texture and unreached since its discovery in 2002 – the Fermat’s Last Theorem of gaming. He also discovered the “Mystery Goomba” enemy, that spawns for a single frame underneath the final level and is, as far as is known, impossible to reach. His hypothesis of the Goomba’s existence and why he believes it to be so, his discovery thereof via manipulating camera angles (a grainy snapshot that would make a Nessie-spotter baulk), an explanation of why it (dis)appears where and when it does, and a ten-minute video exploring everything he has tried to reach the Goomba without success, are all painstakingly chronicled.

The frustration, and the exhilaration, are palpable.
Hypotheses, experiments, results and proofs – literal science. I am fairly serious when I say he could obtain an actual PhD for the sheer scope and meticulousness of his investigations. And it’s no longer a mere hobby for him – with over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, Pannen is now able to make a legitimate living from his SM64 escapades, and he is currently offering a $1,000 “bounty” to anyone who can replicate a particular teleport-like glitch that one player triggered once (inadvertently) during a recorded speedrun in 2015, but that nobody has ever been able to reproduce since. If you fancy a bash at getting that cash, looky here.
* * *
Right, all very interesting (or not – your mileage may vary), but what has this got to do with me, your humble narrator? Good question, and I’ll tell you – I want to be like him.
His accomplishments in his particular field of research stand alongside Leibniz and Newton’s discoveries in calculus, albeit I doubt he’s going to become a household name like them (okay, bit of a stretch). Even after these triumphant milestones, he still returns to see where he can improve in every element of his runs in the vein of a world-class athlete. Or he pursues ever more unorthodox methods of splitting, splicing, dissecting, deconstructing and rearranging the game, like an artist finding new materials or techniques to paint, sculpt, film. Moreover, his love, passion and dedication to the craft is like that of Gomez and Morticia Addams for one another – a singular and undying adoration, a symbiotic relationship that blooms ever more over time. Super Mario 64 and pannenkoek2012 bring out more in one another than most couples do, and are wholly more than their individual selves.
There are plenty of comments under his videos deriding his efforts as a “waste of time” (as are games and art in general, if you want to reductio that absurdum), and that there’s no higher purpose to any of these restricted challenges, and best of all, that all the credit being given to him should go to the toolkits he uses to implement precision movements (by the same logic, all the credit given to Da Vinci should go to his paintbrushes). And maybe there won’t be some concrete, usable service gained from anything that he does, though some argue it may have implications for the mathematics and physics of games programming going forward, as well as exploring sociological questions like “Why do we so enjoy taking things apart / imposing constraints on ourselves / listening to complex theories being posited even when we often don’t fully understand the mechanics of them?”
But all of that misses the central point. Sean Buchanan has found, and dived headlong into, a subject of his interest, and dedicated himself to attaining the closest thing he can to perfection in his knowledge and understanding of it. He has poured hundreds, probably thousands of hours into his extremely specific skillset over ten years (you may have heard of the 10,000 hours it takes to achieve true mastery of something; it’s half-true), and has entertained tens of thousands of viewers in the process, many of whom have never even played SM64 themselves, but who simply enjoy seeing somebody so wholeheartedly laying bare its inner workings.
I don’t know how good he is at anything else in his life – like, I presume he can take care of himself in basic day-to-day life functions like cooking and cleaning, and he has other interests beyond cracking open video games (not to the same extent, but they’re there). But if my presumptions are correct, then he’s achieved the sort of vocational ideal that game developers Valve look for in their employees, as illustrated on page 46 of their magnificent company handbook – a “T-shaped” person, with a wide breadth of knowledge in a variety of areas (“computer science major” covers a lot of ground), and one specific, hardcore, deep-rooted area of expertise.
* * *
So, this is where I want to get myself as well – “T-shaped”. I have the starting problem of not knowing what my area of expertise ought to be – I definitely have the breadth of knowledge to be a threat in any pub quiz you care to bring me to, and knowledge bases and skillsets that cover things such as linguistics, etymology, lexicology, and other language-based and writing-based fields of study; motor racing, especially Formula 1; Nintendo video games (shock horror); internet memetics; some degree of competency in music theory and practice… I’d say something relating to my undergrad studies in game development but I’ve forgotten/suppressed nearly all of it. I know, without resorting to self-aggrandisement, that I’m an intelligent guy with the privilege of time and freedom to pursue some highly dedicated self-teaching. The question, then, is where to focus all of this time and energy that, currently, I am putting to waste.
When I was at Abertay Uni, I came across a book in the library (quite unrelated to my course) by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi on his concept of “flow”, whereby a person reaches their greatest states of achievement, and of happiness and contentment, when they apply skills at which they excel to a challenge that is in need of such skills to overcome. Too little challenge for the skill, and the person will be bored or apathetic; too little skill for the challenge, and the person will be worried or anxious. How very much like Pannen’s adventures! A seemingly immovable (or unreachable) object, being met with his seemingly unstoppable force of will, is a case study in flow.

Skill along the X-axis; Challenge up the Y-axis. His name’s pronounced “ME-high CHEEK-sent-me-high”, by the by.
A related area of Csíkszentmihályi’s studies is intrinsic motivation, and I think this is where the light is slowly starting to come on in my head (this bit is taking an age to write compared to the earlier paragraphs – introspection is tricky). Certain phrases come back to me time and again from popular culture – my fridge magnet that says “I would be unstoppable, if I could just get started”; a simple lyric from You’re The Best Thing by The Style Council – “I could be a lot / But I know I’m not”; a three-panel web comic by the hauntingly brilliant A Softer World that reads “If you put your mind to it / you can do anything. / But you won’t”. Juxtaposing them like this, it can’t be coincidence that I’ve held onto these particular phrases in my mind.
Man, writing is therapeutic.
Pannen, until recently, didn’t get any recompense for doing what he did, and he still doesn’t do it for the adulation, nor the money, nor even really for the achievements themselves. He does it because the doing thrills him, fills him with fantastic feelings ne’er felt before. I need something intrinsic like this. I still submit to writing contests, but that seems to be the primary source of motivation for writing most things nowadays, and that’s no way to go on in a creative endeavour. It doesn’t have to be done without an external end to the means, but it probably should.
That ought to change.
But it’s not just in terms of my occupation that I’m trying to view things in terms of Pannen. I believe, to an extent, that this can be applied to relationships too. I don’t mean in the Groundhog Day sense of finding out every one of her favourite drinks, restaurants, poets et cetera and trying to woo her with those – I mean in knowing what makes your partner(s) laugh, what habits tick them off, whether they’d appreciate a surprise trip to the Caribbean or whether they’re the sort of person to freak out even at nice surprises on that scale. Knowing, and adapting, and relating to the challenge that is a relationship, or a friendship, or a business or workplace partnership – these are all skills too, and I reckon a sort of social flow comes with maintaining such interactions well.
I can probably get better at those, too.
And, I hypothesise, this can be scaled upwards to a five-year plan of where I want to be living and what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with and so forth, or it can be scaled down to washing dishes regularly, or cleaning some gorram space on my bedroom floor, or taking less than two days, on and off, to finish a blog post.
So. Mission statement. Flow. Focus. Choose life. Choose finishing and posting this blurb. Choose getting to bed not long after and setting an alarm even though it’s a Sunday. Apply for jobs slightly better than I think I can do, because I might just surprise myself – I know more than I think I know. Apply myself to writing things for the sake of writing them – I know I enjoy it, and that it’s a matter of shutting the distractions out for however long it takes – 15 or 20 minutes or so – for that bit of my creative self to unfurl like a flower blooming, and for the words to start coming in a stream, a flow instead of a drip or a trickle, as they’re doing now at last after hours of frustrating stop-start half-sentence-at-a-time tomfoolery.
Learn a bit of Gaelic every day – I made a start last month but trailed off, but a dozen or so new words a day is totally feasible, and the great thing is that I’m not doing this with an end goal in mind (though it may be useful should I ever get a civil service job or the like) – I simply want to speak and write a bit of Gaelic. Cook for myself, and my mum, more often – she deserves it. Insist on doing more around the place in general for both our sakes. A weird and highly unromantic one, but I gotta be brutally honest with myself: brush my teeth twice a day every day, not once a day most days – it’s kind of the opposite of flow, but my mouth, and dentistry bills, will thank me later in life.
Uh… this went off somewhere else, I guess. But this is part of the learning process – I haven’t written something like this in a while, so I’ll need to relearn the discipline of reining in tangential thoughts and keeping my writing taut (and using less of these parenthetical asides; I’m sure they disrupt the flow of the piece).
To tomorrow. To flow. To pannenkoek.
~Adam
*Near the end of writing this, I realised that, by sheer coincidence, tomorrow – February 18th – will mark the 20th anniversary of my first rescue of Princess Peach in SM64. I remember the date because six-year-old me wrote it in a diary. As time goes by-y-y…
**A couple of months ago, Pannen uploaded an updated version that, while still requiring half an A-press, slashes his previous completion time to a mere five and a half hours. Jamboree!

GRENFELL TOWER FIRE

Grenfell Action Group

Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

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IT WAS ONLY A LIST

This is a festive gift from me to you, dear readers, to be sung to the tune (or at least read to the rhythm) of “Mr Brightside” by The Killers – credit to my friend Imogen for sparking this splendid idea. Share away if you like!

 

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Christmas lights are ablaze
It smells of chestnuts and pine
Gotta gotta get out
Deliver gifts to all
I’d started making a list
How did it end up like this?
It was only a list
IT WAS ONLY A LIST

Now I’ve schedules to keep
But the weather looks bad
Chimneys filling with smoke
Sack’s becoming a drag
Now I’m boarding the sled
And my reindeer are sick
Got a full night ahead
But I’m needing a

Rest now
Beard down to my chest now
Starting to snow

And I just can’t look
It seems to me
A freezing hellhole

Skimming trees
Whiteout, I can barely see
Sleet and hailstones in my eyes
Can’t eat any more mince pies
But it’s just the price I pay
Christmas Eve is calling me
Boy, I hope my sleigh still flies…
CUZ I’M MISTER YULETIDE!

(solo)

[repeat lyrics above]

(Ode to Joy-esque solo)

December
December
DECEMBER
DECEMBEEEEERRR…

*

 

Season’s Greetings, y’all.

 

~Adam