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June 2009

The Sport That Lost It's Mind.....

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 0

The sport that is business has lost its mind. It pains me to say it, but Formula One is in turmoil and the FIA (the sports Governing body), has gone mad with power.

For those who haven’t followed along, the currently situation is thus; over the years the FIA have been introducing radical new rules every year since 1994 in a bit to make the sport safer for its drivers, slow the cars down and reduce the costs involved for all, as the bigger teams increased their budgets year on year, making the race for the championship a financial battle (allegedly), rather than a on-track racing experience. More recently, the FIA have started to push some “green” credentials onto the sport in the form of an “optional” Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems or KERS (where by power is recovered from the action of braking and stored in a battery that then allows this stored energy to boost the engine).

The word “optional” is the problem here. Whilst the cost of developing a KERS system could be astronomical and beyond the scope of some of the smaller teams, the bigger teams who have invested are able to hold an advantage (although in reality, its become a fine balance trading off the performance of the boost verse the penalty of carrying the additional weight of a heavy battery system). Thus a two tiered system has been introduced into F1 almost by mistake (the haves verses the have not’s).

For next year the FIA hoped to introduce a budget cap on just how much each team can spend on their cars, originally allowing a maximum £30million cap (which was then increased to £40m – not including the cost for engines, driver salaries or marketing and promotional costs), and gave the teams the option to either adhere to this cap in exchange for complete freedom in the cars design - or - all the teams to opt out of the cap and spend whatever they liked, but have their cars comply to a strict set of rules, thereby in effect creating a two tiered championship and causing confusion amongst the fans.

The teams, made up mainly of big car manufacturers, rebelled against these rules and stated they would not agree to them, in the process forming a group known as FOTA (Formula One Teams Association). FOTA (chaired by Ferrari President Luca Di Montezemolo) argued that it was impossible to lower costs from their current budgets to the cap that was being introduced over the period of one year. Instead FOTA stated they would lower their costs and make engines and certain expensive parts (such as KERS systems, Gearboxes, etc), available for purchase by the less well off or new teams entering the sport, whilst also offering technical help and assistance. They have also stated that it may be possible to stage the lowering of costs over a number of years until the £40m cap is reached, but this has been rejected by the FIA.

The sport is in a stale mate situation with neither side willing to concede.

To further complicate matters, the introduction of a budget cap has attracted the attention of some of the lower formula racing teams looking to make the step up to the pinnacle of F1. With the number of cars allowed on the racing grid being 26 (comprising of 13 teams, as each team runs 2 cars), these places were applied for by a number of well funded hopefuls looking for entry into the sport.

The current F1 teams, all members of FOTA, had to submit their entries to the 2010 Formula One Championship by a certain date, which they did – only with a condition that they race under the current 2009 rules. Two teams, Williams and Force India, broke away from FOTA claiming that they were under financial obligation to race in the F1 series due to previously brokered agreements with F1’s commercial holder Bernie Ecclestone. Ecclestone claims other teams, including Ferrari (who have competed in the sport every year since the 1950s), are obliged to enter next years championship, Ferrari claim they don’t and are free to pursue other motorsport avenues.

Threats of a brand new, breakaway series consisting of the FOTA teams which, remember are made up mainly of the major car manufacturers, and therefore have a significant financial clout (as well as all of the current F1 drivers, including all of the big names, under contract), have been floated if an agreement with the FIA cannot be found. The FIA, however, are unwilling to back down, especially as they have been boosted by the amount of teams applying for entry into the championship.

It seems the resolution can go one of any number of ways;

  • The FIA back down and allow all FOTA teams to sign up to the proposed rules, written by the FOTA group
  • FOTA back down and agree to the FIA’s budget cap or something close to the £40m proposed
  • Neither side back down and Bernie Ecclestone’s FOM (Formula One Management), takes the teams who are “obliged” to race in the championship to court in a bit to get them to pay their way out of the sport (effectively ruining their chances of entering a breakaway series), or making them race in F1
  • Agreement fails to be reached and FOTA set up their breakaway series based on the rules the FOTA teams have been developing between themselves as the premise for their championship (which also assumes that the teams bound by agreement reach settlement with FOM)
  • The teams within FOTA who’s position in the F1 Championship are most under threat, defect from FOTA in a bid to guarantee their place on the grid, either forcing the other teams to sign up also or risk losing their place on the grid entirely (for example, McLaren is currently not guaranteed their place on the grid right now, and could be replaced by a new applicant – signing up early would secure their future in the sport; contrastingly Ferrari are “under obligation to race”, but failure to sign up in time could result in there not being enough places left for the marquee to retain its place in the sport if other teams are permitted to the sport).

In the past, every spat between the teams and the FIA has always been settled by the winning over of Ferrari; as the most famous, powerful and influential marquee in the sport it has a massive affect on what the sports rule makers are permitted to do and/or where other teams align their political allegiances. This is the reason why Ferrari have been able to secure additional funding from FOM, and being given the power of “veto” on the rules from the FIA – because the sports rule makers know they can make or break the sport.

Whether this approach of keeping Ferrari onside is right or wrong, especially over some of the other long term manufacturers and teams who have been around for a long time (McLaren, Williams, Renault), its not for me to say in this particular blog. But the historical and iconic significance of Ferrari in Formula One should be lost on no one, especially with the massive following Ferrari has in its tifosi (the name given to the die-hard fans of the cars adorning the famous prancing horse logo).

How this entire predicament ends, no one is sure of at the moment. What is assured however, is that the fans want a solution and for the future to be settled based on business decisions. My opinion is that, despite historically, the team reportedly being unable to agree between themselves on any rulings, the creation of the FOTA is now more organised, more diplomatic and more willing to discuss and compromise than at any time in the past – for example, they have already agreed, despite the millions they invested, to drop the expensive fan-unfriendly and complicated to explain KERS system for next year (something I believe agreement wouldn’t have been found previously before the creation of FOTA).

Time will tell......

Making It Snappy....

Monday, June 15, 2009 1

After a bit of encouragement, I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought myself a new toy this weekend. Whilst it seems like a bit of an impulse purchase, let me assure you that it has been well researched and a vast amount of thought put into it – especially if you read my last post!

That’s right; I’ve purchase a new digital camera! But not your typical point and shoot that my current skill set is accustomed to, but the new four-thirds Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 “SLR”.

Reading (or rather watching courtesy of
YouTube), the many reviews on this camera, it seems there is a mixture of opinion of whether or not this camera can be classified as a true SLR given its digital viewfinder, over the traditional mirror system used in most SLR’s. However, after using the camera over the weekend, I’ve found the electronic view finder to be easy to use and despite some pixilation, does quite a nice job, especially if you are able to compensate with your imagination a little to block out the imperfect digital dots. Alright, for the die-hard photographer, it might be a no go, but when trading off the advantages of size and weight, I think it’s a good compromise.

I’ve adapted to the controls rather quickly, and find the combination of the quick menu and the jog wheel on the front especially useful and far from confusing (once you have a quick glance through the instruction manual to work out exactly which symbol is for what). The flip-out, rotating screen is also a handy feature and one of the main things that attracted me to this particular camera model – I likes a good screen, especially on such a “visual” heavy product.

A number of reviews mentioned that this camera is over-priced compared to some of the more established cameras on the market, however when you consider that this new smaller size is brand new to the market and is packed full of new technologies (sophisticated electronic view finders, flip out screen, etc), it becomes a little more understandable and whilst the price will undoubtedly drop as the technology becomes more widely adapted, it’ll be entirely dependant on your budget to work out if that little bit more is worth it or not.

Coming from a “point and shot” camera to something a little bit more complex is a bit of a step for me, and there is a lot I need to now learn along the way, but this camera, I believe, is perfectly placed in the market; for those new to photography and those already established who want the control for that perfect photograph.

After years of talking up photo service Flickr, I have no doubt that at some point I will be signing up for myself to show off some of my better photographs. However, for now, I’ve taken advantage of
Microsoft Skydrive Live service (there’s a link on the left hand menu), and uploaded my photos here for you to consume for the time being.


Whilst I’m talking
Skydrive, its still a useful tool that not nearly enough people take advantage of when sharing files and utilising as a collaboration tool and whilst I’ve not done enough to spread the word about it, I will most certainly try to; its especially useful as a USB key tag/memory stick replacement/alternative or when moving files around multiple machines.

I’m not sure it’s a service I’ll be plugging (and by ‘plugging’, I mean ranting and raving and taking every opportunity to talk about), like I have in the past with Flickr,
Digg, Twitter, Gmail, etc...but as an interesting piece of “Web 2.0” technology, with a wink towards cloud based tech, Skydrive is worth keeping in mind for any file, web storage, sharing, collaborating needs.

Panaramic Vision....

Saturday, June 6, 2009 1

I'm not much of a photographer, but what I am (it turns out), is "a PC".

A couple of weeks ago, I ventured out on the road in the glorious sunshine, driving with the top down on my convertible car (still can't get over how nice that is), and headed over to Whitby. Armed with my trusty point and click Olympus camera.

I headed up the infamous Whitby "199 steps" and walked around the church yard, looking out across the magnificent vista and inevitably clicked away a few photographs. Whilst I did so, it got me wondering about those panaramic photos you've no doubt seen the kids doing recently in a number of Microsoft Live adverts. Anyway, I had to give it a go.

So, I downloaded my photos to my PC and I set about playing with "stitching" three photographs together using "Windows Live Photo Gallery", after a little bit of trouble (me not adding the photos to the gallery), I was eventually able to select the photos I wanted to turn into a panaramic view and click the button.

The software did everything for me and I ended up with what I think is an awesome photograph!

........"I'm Craig, I'm 25 and three quarters, and I'm a PC"!

A QI Video Blog.....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009 0

I’ve always liked the idea of those interesting video blogs, where someone interesting in interviewed on a Flip Video camera especially in the middle of somewhere slightly unusual. As “Project QI” was unfolding, I decided that I wanted to chart the progress of the journey and re-live the ‘story thus far’, capturing all of the excitement, thoughts and emotion on Flip Video forever.

What I got instead was something slightly different.

The documentation of the journey was forgotten until the very last minute; as you can tell from the way this interview was rudely interrupted:

Dave being QI.... from Craig Butters on Vimeo.

Capturing the moments after this interview was interrupted then seemed secondary to the actual adventure we found ourselves in. Missing is the exciting detour we took through the iMAX cinema (or rather the walk around the cinema, followed by a bathroom break), the moment of realisation we were to join a rather long queue, the actual queuing action (which was far more exciting than it sounds, as we seemed to be the only ones actually entertained by our dry wit and comedic banter), the dodging of pigeon droppings, mocking of die-cast hands of B-list celebs on the walls of the studio building, the possible escape and capture of a genuine QI elf (or just a really small lady who was potentially mistook for an elf), and then entering the actual studio itself.

All sadly missing from video footage and forever consigned to memories in my own head (and now in written word on this blog). However, as the old saying goes, “they can take everything, but they can’t take my memories”....

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