Tuesday, October 23, 2007


It can't be said often enough how important psychology is in sport (but there are plenty of commentators and amateur psychologists who are doing their level best). The blame game for Lewis Hamilton's failure to finish the job in his last two races is raging everywhere: blame Ferrari, Max Mosley, Ron Dennis, Lewis, his dad, the paparazzi whatever. What seems to have been missed is that Ferrari played a blinder off the track to put all the pressure on McLaren and they never even stretched the rules (well not obviously).

You could put it all in terms of a corporate mission statement:

Aim: To win both driver & constructor championships (at all costs)

Objectives: 1 Identify weaknesses of our main competitors and exploit them. Note: think outside the box, not just the car, but the drivers, the team set up, reputation, other personnel etc.


1. Undermine credibility: this has the double advantage that it puts them on the defensive and any success they have can be disputed. The methods will present themselves based on circumstances but as a starting point it is vital to aim at the keystone of their reputation: Ron Dennis. Identify his weaknesses and use them to bring down the team.

The methods which presented themselves were ideal: a disgruntled employee, sketchy evidence of industrial espionage - nothing special in any normal season, but exploited to the full by 'sexing up' and turning them into a test case of the authority of the FIA and personally of Max Mosley. Wind them up and watch them go.

It has been said that Muhammed Ali won the fight before he stepped in the ring by undermining the confidence of his oponent using his charisma. In the same way Ferrari had won the championship before the engines started for the last two races. McLaren were all over the place, half of them fighting the other half over Alonso vs Hamilton and the management trying desperately to be seen to be fair to both sides; they had had one championship stolen from them already and they lost sight of where they were going to get the other one. At the back of their minds amidst all the jitters and recriminations was the fact that their credibility was in tatters and if they won they were more likely to be further sanctioned. Ron Dennis was in the impossible position of having to avoid acting in the best interests of the team (which is to support the driver leading the championship) lest he be tried and found guilty of bias.

While the McLaren team could hardly think for stress and conflicting pressures, the confidence of the Ferrari team must have been going through the roof. Step up Kimi Raikonen and, in an act of brilliance (overlooked by almost everybody) he, not only got ahead of Hamilton into the first corner at Brazil, but managed to brake, forcing him back into his team-mate. It was brilliant in its reading of the psychology of the situation, not the execution. Under normal circumstances you would expect Lewis to be charging for the first corner and he would simply have twitched past the Ferrari on instinct. But, Kimi assumed, rightly, that Lewis would be under strict instructions not to race against the Ferraris and concentrate on getting through cleanly even if it meant giving way. So it was that Hamilton lost all his timing into the first S bend and went from 2nd to 8th. That was down to the difference in the confidence of the Ferrari driver who was going all out for the win and the McLaren driver trying to avoid doing anything which could end his race or get him penalised.

The worrying thing now is that McLaren may implode. They have been, not only beaten, but also made to look stupid. There is a real danger that Alonso will leave taking a chunk out of the heart of the team and that Ron Dennis' authority is so badly undermined that there will start to be power games played out within the team. They badly need to decide what their aim is: is it to be seen to be a fair player or is it to win, because, in the end, the two may not be compatible.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

global obesity warming

"The obesity epidemic is as serious as climate change" my arse. It ain't the same ball park - to paraphrase Samuel L jackson in Pulp Fiction - it ain't the same league, it ain't even in the same sport. The obesity epidemic (if there is such a thing) is not even as significant as the smoking 'epidemic' for one very simple reason:

it doesn't affect other people.

OK, if my child needed an operation and all the hospitals were full of morbidly fat lazy people then I would be as frustrated and angry as the next person. But if you are going to start moaning about the amount of tax spent on propping up these bloaters then you quickly go down the slippery slope of: well people who smoke, do drugs, climb mountains without the proper equipment, get drunk and into fights, drive too fast etc. There's a lot of 'epidemics' which are every bit as costly, annoying and down to personal lifestyle choice. But most of them affect other people very directly: my children are much more likely to be run over by someone in too much of a hurry to watch the road than they are to be squashed to death in a lift by a fat person. People under the influence of alcohol are also very likely to inflict injuries on my family one way or another. Then there's smoking: at least it's banned in public indoors places now (about three decades late), personally I would like to see it banned in any area inhabited by children including private homes - it's a straight forward human rights issue.

But global warming (whatever the cause human or natural or a mixture) is going to affect everybody and lots of other species as well. I don't know if anybody's done any research, but aren't obese people actually carbon sinks? They must be tying up lots of the stuff and OK they eat more so there's a whole production issue but then population increase is the real baddie there.

Monday, October 15, 2007

whingeing sportstars

There's a lot of reasons why the FIA shouldn't be putting an inspector in the McLaren garage during the Brazilian Grand Prix; almost too many to list comprehensively. Here is one: Alonso is a whinger and, as any parent knows only too well, with a moaning child you NEVER give in. (Well that's the theory anyway - in practice you end up doing anything for a quiet life and of course live to regret it - and that's the point)

Of course there is a long and illustrious history of whingeing sportstars - if you can't beat someone in the arena then you can always complain about their behaviour off it: coded yoghurts, weapons concealed in plaster casts, taking more than their share of the blankets - anything to rubbish the result if it goes the wrong way. Only... and this is where it gets a bit bizarre... usually it's the oponents who are accused not the team mates. Now, the two drivers in an F1 team are competitors but they also play for the same team which is why it seems very strange to have an official coming in and making sure that these team mates aren't being diddled by different parts of the same team. Er...

Imagine an Olympic official being posted in the British athletics changing rooms to make sure that one sprinter wasn't getting more leg massages than another.

Now, there are two outcomes from this situation: 1. the official presides, sees nothing untoward and the race goes ahead as planned.

or 2. (and if you put an inspector in somewhere you have to at least pay lip service to what they come up with) the inspector finds a discrepancy - maybe Alonso's teddy bear is trifled with by a maverick mechanic - and then someone in the FIA has to make a decision. What do they do? It's the pivotal race of the season: are you going to put somebody back a few places on the grid? Dock a few points? How many? Enough to change the result or not? The FIA don't exactly have a track record of comprehensible decisions: when Schumacher barged Villeneuve they deleted his position but not his points (or something); McLaren got their constructor points deleted but their drivers got to keep theirs (aren't they the same points? I mean the drivers earned them for the team) I live in dread of some incomprehensible decision that totally muddies the water and leaves nobody entirely happy - the winner because it undermines their credibility and the losers because it didn't bring them justice.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sport: tune in, get a result, switch off

...or why the result shouldn't be meddled with.

I watched Ben Johnson run 100m in 9.74 seconds or whatever it was. He did that and I saw it. He was presented with a gold medal - I saw that too. Then he was found guilty of taking a banned substance, stripped of the medal and the world record. This isn't about the moral maze of drug use in sport or fairness; this is about sport as a form of entertainment. I watched the race and the presentation and became emotionally involved in a moment in history. Changing the result is changing that history and asking me to erase that emotional impact from myself.

Here's another example I only just discovered: in 2003 there was a crazy Formula 1 race in Brazil. In the end the race was stopped as there were so many crashed cars around the circuit it resembled a scrapheap. The race victory was given (if memory serves) to a McLaren, which was sad as a Jordan (or some other no-hope team) had looked to be leading. I was disappointed at the time right up until I switched off and then I forgot all about it. Turns out, I just read today, 4 years later, that the result was overturned and the Jordan was given the victory a few days later.

In sports like F1 which are technologically bewilderingly complicated, there are so many things which can be discovered that have an impact on the result that there are very rarely any races at all that don't have some adjustment made to the order of start or finish. But it is still a form of entertainment when all is said and done by the army of people employed to say and do things.


My role as an armchair sport spectator would be enhanced by knowing the result I see at the end of the broadcast is the one which will stand. This must be even more so for someone who paid through the nose to go along to the race, fought their way through the crowds to watch the presentation ceremony and then had it all erased while they were back at work the next week.

This should be a cross-sport agreement between whatever bodies control these things. Every effort should be made to ensure fair play right up to the point where (and each sport decides what determines this final point) the proverbial fat lady sings. They could, of course, choose to delay the actual presentation but I have a feeling that the TV companies' muscle will prevent this from happening too much.

Presumably there must be a limit even now: I assume nobody is going to strip England of their 1966 World Cup medals because the ball wasn't over the line on one of their goals. All I am saying is that it should be brought within a reasonable time for viewing the event.

There will always be cheaters in sport; some that get caught and some that get away with it. There will be dubious decisions, wrong results and complaints. But this is not like the US Presidential election; if you keep deciding results in courts rather than on the pitch/track/field etc. there won't be any winners, just losers and lots of people reaching for remote controls to turn over.