Sunday, September 7, 2008

Enter the Conspiracy Theorists

There will no end to the controversy that will now engulf Formula 1 after Lewis Hamilton’s victory at Spa has been overturned by the stewards. They felt the driver gained advantage by cutting a corner and assessed a 25-second penalty to the Briton thus relegating his McLaren to third thereby damping a thrilling race conclusion.

The conspiracy theorists will of course argue that Ferrari is the benefactor, as Felipe Massa, Hamilton’s chief title competitor, was handed the victory. The catcalls will be doubly loud after Massa wasn’t penalized at all for a pitlane infraction during the Valencia Grand Prix two weeks ago.

(Of course, logical reasoning will respond that Massa didn’t deserve a penalty as it was the team that allowed him to leave his pit box too soon, and there was nothing the driver could do. That won’t quiet the screaming, mind you.)

Forget the past, though, today’s incident definitely deserves closer review. Did Hamilton cut the corner? Absolutely. But immediately afterwards he lifted and allowed Kimi Raikkonen to regain top spot as the two came around the final corner of the lap. There was obviously a concerted effort by McLaren to ensure they complied with the rules.

Did, therefore, Hamilton really gain any kind of advantage? That is a debate that will definitely rage for a while. Had he remained on course, would he have been as close to the Finn thereby ensuring he got the tow necessary for his pass?

Lewis had been closing the gap relentlessly during the closing stages of the race, so there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t have attempted a pass at some point during that particular lap – he was easily close enough and his car was obviously more suited to the conditions at the time. It seemed inevitable, actually, that he would overtake the obviously slower Ferrari.

Furthermore, from this writer’s standpoint, Hamilton didn’t seem to really have a choice during the incident in question as Raikkonen left him no choice, leading to the conclusion that this was nothing more than a racing incident.

However, if one assumes that the penalty was merited according to the letter of the law, then one has then to consider the length of the penalty. Why, for instance, was the penalty not 10 seconds instead of the actual 25 allotted? Did his advantage really offer him a 25-second improvement over his rivals? Is 25 seconds the actual penalty which is assessed for cutting a corner regardless of circumstance?

If the latter is the case, then hard luck Lewis. However in considering other incidents and subsequent penalties, there seems to be no hard rule on what can be assessed and what cannot. Why was this particular case given a massive 25-second penalty when it clearly gained him nor more than a very small number of seconds – at best – even considering the tow. Do the stewards honestly believe Hamilton was going to be blocked by Raikkonen for the remainder of the race in a car which was significantly faster?

Perhaps this is all a little premature, but with the facts available at the time of this writing, it seems Hamilton was dinged rather harshly. Maybe a more complete report will be available which will indicate more precisely why he was penalized so significantly, so a final call on this matter will have to wait.

Still, there’s no doubt that those conspiracy theorists will be shouting loud and clear at the perceived injustice of it all.

It’s hard to blame them.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Lost Art of Men's Tennis

Something needs to be done about men’s tennis. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a mass of talent there that’s incredible to behold, but spending any amount of time watching matches has become rather dull.

Serve. Ace, or return. If return, then either a winner from the returning player, or a volley from the service for the win.

Whatever happened to the long rally? There’s so much power now that virtually every point takes only a few seconds. That’s just not fun to watch; it’s a battle of equipment and power over a battle of skill and endurance and intelligence.

The last time I saw really good tennis was back in the days of Jimmy Connors. He had little power, but could put the ball on a dime anywhere in the court and have you running back and forth until you fell over, desperately sucking air through clenched teeth. Just when you thought you had the perfect winner against him, there he was somehow getting to the ball which he then delicately placed so as to cause the most struggle for his opponent.

Sure, once in a while there’s some great back-and-forth play, but by and large it’s a serve and volley game. On the other hand, check out the women. Long rallies, intelligent play, some deft control of the ball – it’s everything that tennis should be.

There are some sports where technology has gone too far, and I wonder if men’s tennis is one of those places. The rackets are basically extensions of the arm these days as they’re so light and balanced. The balls are wonderfully springy and even the bulk of the courts are made for speed: hard courts are bad enough, but Wimbledon and other grass court venues are painful to watch.

Maybe men’s tennis should stick to clay so there’s at least some strategy to the game.

Personally, I’ve lost interest in watching the men’s version of this sport I used to enjoy so many years ago. I limit my watching to the women’s side so I can enjoy what I call real tennis.

Maybe it’s only me, but I miss the Jimmy Connors’s of yesteryear and wish we could find some of that in today’s game again.