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Motorsport

With the world focussed on sports that where men play with balls, we'd rather focus on one where you need them (at least figuratively). If it doesn't have an engine, it's not here.

In two races, four penalties have been awarded against drivers who were on the inside of corners when an opponent made an ill-advised overtaking manoeuvre around the outside and, for his trouble, went off, alleging fault on the part of the driver who had been in front going into the corner.

So now it's clear: if you want to sabotage someone else's race, especially in the melée of the first lap, all you have to do is take a dive. Norris and Russell and, almost karma-like, Perez have all suffered penalties when someone else put themselves in harm's way and then complained about it.

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F1 is making a bad mistake. Recent racing shows exactly why.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it; let well alone, and such phrases come to mind.

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The Styrian Grand Prix was very misleading. It looked processional, almost pedestrian. But it was far from that. Equally importantly, it wasn't a race of pit-stop strategies. Yes, there were some tyre management strategies employed - and if they demonstrated anything it was that, in general, it doesn't matter what tyres are used in which order and, equally, it isn't critical if drivers burn the tyres early in a stint or at the end. In fact, the only thing about tyres was whether they would determine a one or two stop race.

What really matters is that Red Bull and their soon-to-be-former engine supplier Honda have quietly gone about producing a car that is faster and handles better than the Mercedes. At the Red Bull Ring, Hamilton implied that his only hope for a win was that it would rain. It didn't.

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There's an old story of the boy who cried wolf: he told villagers that a wolf was coming so often that, when it was true, no one believed him. Mercedes have the opposite problem: they have been so dominant for so long that they could rely on Hamilton's genius and a rock-solid car to win race after race, championship after championship, break record after record.

Nothing in Formula One is easy but getting a great start and bolting out of reach, for so long Mercedes' stock in trade, has made it look simple. And they have been complacent.

It seems that they have failed to develop the thing that wins races when there are competitors: they don't know how to build winning strategies.

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It's the year that shouldn't have been and Mercedes are having a tough 2021. What's going on?

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It's the ultimate dream for motor racing fans and for a driver paying his dues in a tail-end-charlie team, even more so: the call comes from the boss of the most dominant team the sport has ever seen which is seemingly getting better and better. How do you fancy a drive this weekend? a voice at the other end of whatever is the modern equivalent of the line. Of course you say "yes." Sure, their car is designed to be the fastest in practice and to win from the front; sure their pitstops aren't as fast as you are used do; sure it's the same engine as has been helping you trudge around trying not to get lapped but the package it's in and the team around it are, somehow, in a different league and no one in your present team knows why - for sure, it's not dedication and sacrifice.

So, of course you say yes. Welcome to the week when George Russel's dreams came true - then were dashed in a series of critical errors by the Mercedes team and a couple of bits of bad luck.

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We have often made jokes at the expense of Roman Crashjean, as we dubbed him. Grosjean's career in F1 has been long for someone with so little success and so much carnage behind him. Having been told he was being replaced at HAAS F1 at the end of the season and there being no seat available for him in another team for 2021, it seemed as if he would go off into the sunset, another driver who was just kind of there.

But today he is written into the annals of F1 history, recollections embedded into the memories of everyone who was in front of their televisions, settled down for an afternoon's racing around the Sakhir circuit. For this was the day that no one wants to happen - and for which everyone in the sport has been preparing. Not just Grosjean, the Gross Un, the big one. And he walked away, battered, bruised, burned but fundamentally OK.

The world breathed out.

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When we wrote, in early 2010, a satire suggesting that Bernie Ecclestone might improve F1's racing by adding sprinklers to tracks (here ) we didn't expect that a few weeks later he would actually say he thought it was a good idea (but he didn't mention that we'd already put it forward). But the idea gained new impetus with the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix which turned out to be almost a proof of concept - and in doing so produced a race that, visually, looked more like the crazy days of 1970s and 1980s racing before sticky tyres and near-unbreakable downforce turned the sport into an engineering arms race that is at least as important as the driver's skill.

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When we all wrapped up at the end of the 2019 Formula One season, there was the usual end of season feeling: a bit excited, a lot deflated (the Abu Dhabi race does that to me every time - it just doesn't cut it coming after Brazil) and a feeling that the next few months would be punctuated with bits of news from factories, some driver chat and the testing in Barcelona so we northern Europeans get reminded of what sun looks like. And then, it's off to Australia - in reality or virtually - for the season opener that really tells us nothing much about how the season will go and - fun as it is, it's really a shakedown test with points for those that don't shake apart. A huge cock up saw the teams arrive, unpack, set up cars - and then put them all back in the box and go home without a single car doing a lap. Covid-19 had struck and chaos reigned. Until yesterday.

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Testing is just that. It's not racing, it's not practice. It's one step before final shakedown. And it's one step up from running a highly sophisticated video game a.k.a. a simulator. Before the car arrives at the track, teams have buckets of data. Then, sometimes literally, the wheels come off.

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When Valtteri Bottas pulled his car up to the pole position sign in the middle of the track at the Circuit of the Americas yesterday at the end of Qualifying for the 2019 US Grand Prix, there was no celebration as his crew walked around his car and prepared to push it away. After the interviews, he was left to walk back to the garage as an entirely solitary figure. Today, wasn't any better, despite him winning the race.

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What a difference a week makes. Formula One had barely had time to clear out of the Paddock at the Suzuka circuit when MotoGP were setting up not too far away at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. But the weather made an appearance at both events, causing less trouble for the bikes but still enough to, in effect, nullify Saturday's practice sessions. But that wasn't the problem. Marquez having won his eighth world championship at the previous round, the Thai Grand Prix, even though there are several more coronets to collect, once the big one has gone, there seems to be more than a little desperation for the commentators trying to keep interest alive. No problem, you might say: the racing will do that. Er.. no.

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It's said that it's impossible to overtake at the Suzuka race circuit but it's not true. There have been winners from way, way down the field. One of the last old-fashioned racing circuits where Formula One still races, this weekend has shown something fascinating: no matter what technical rules are imposed, no matter what generation of drivers is involved - it's tracks like the Honda's Twin Ring Motagi circuits that actually deliver great racing.

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Who'd have thunk it? When Hamilton, suffering from a cold so severe he questioned if he would be able to drive, stuck his car on pole yesterday, and Ferrari missed Q3 with one car and missed qualifying altogether with the other, surely it was all over. Then when the rain came down, the cooler air favoured the Mercedes which had been struggling to match the pace of the Ferraris all weekend. Red Bull's Verstappen picked up P2 and Bottas in P3 and it looked as if the race had been decided. How wrong could we be: the race was "decided" over and over again as the Hockenheim track said "if this is my swansong, it's going to be a good one."

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If one could ever say that a circuit has a soul, one must, surely, say that about Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix for almost every running of that race since Formula One was born. And if a soul can be resurrected, to come alive and celebrate, Silverstone did just that. As the F1 circus rolled into town and set up shop, the biggest question was if this would be the last F1 at Silverstone and, even, if there would be a British Grand Prix after 2019. While the terms of the deal are secret, it is likely that the British Racing Drivers' Club, the owners of the former airfield and Liberty, the owners of F1, have done a deal under which the cost of running the race is reduced. The deal makes sure F1 comes home for at least the next five years. Then the grand old dame of F1 shed all her cares and woes and partied and what a party it was..

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