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F1

The Canadian Grand Prix produced excellent and exciting racing. Strategy played almost no part and we were treated to motor racing at its best. Sadly, the racing has been overshadowed.

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I'm highly critical of American style oval racing. It's far too orchestrated by "IndyCar" or "Nascar" and it's boring unless there's a crash (and who wants to wish for crashes that cause injury or death?). After all, who wants to sit through 185 laps only for a crash to force the "full course yellow" or, even, "safety car" that sets up the cars for the only bit that really matters: the last ten laps or so to the finish. I've watched it, on and off, for several decades and it's almost always Dullsville personified. Until this year's Indy 500. Oh, how I wish they could all be like this.

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Lewis Hamilton made perhaps the most prescient statement of recent times in Formula One. He said that Ferrari have a faster car than Mercedes. But Mercedes, he said, have the better team, saying that the systems, the strength in depth in all departments, the stability are what give him and team-mate Valtteri Bottas the machinery that allows them to do the job. And with four one-two finishes in the first four races, in each case at least in part due to Ferrari fluffing something, even in the dense air of below sea level Baku which should have increased the red cars' performance advantage, it's increasingly looking as if he's right. But the apparent Sunday afternoon jog for the two Mercedes drivers around the streets of Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, is as much to do with the failures of others as the strength of Mercedes. Ferrari are not the only ones struggling to get it together.
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F1 is fascinating for many reasons: one is the fact that there are days when one tiny event means not winning, when nearly perfect isn't good enough. And there's the fact that it's a brutal sport where fairness goes out of the window as soon as the lights go out at the first race of the season. Just three races into 2019 and it's already clear that even though much has changed, much has stayed the same.

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Charles Leclerc fumbled the start and saw his pole position evaporate. It was the only thing he did wrong in the entire race as he took the lead in an audacious move on his team leader, Sebastian Vettel, and didn't look back for the simple reason there was no one to see in his mirrors. Until gremlins arrived.

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I should say up front that I am not a fan of DRS but I concede that, sometimes, it's helped spice up what was an otherwise processional race. But in F1 this year, there seems to be a plan to have more DRS zones. Last night's race in Bahrain had three. When DRS was introduced, tracks had one. And, last night, DRS made an extremely positive contribution to the race but its contribution was limited and artificial. What if the DRS rules were changed to remove the limitation and artificiality?

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It's a question that three years ago had a clear answer: yes; easily. Now, it's far more complicated. How far, then, should F1 go to appease the Italian team?

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For fans of the personalities, regulations and technology of F1, the first race of the 2019 season was fascinating.

For fans of racing, it was extraordinarily dull.

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I can't claim to have known Charlie Whiting personally but I can say that, like one or two other people over my decades of enjoying Formula One as a spectator, he has been an important figure in my life. And then, suddenly, he's gone, as if someone turned out the lights. This time, they say "gone" not "go."

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Paddy Lowe, one of the most successful designers in Formula One's history, is to take indefinite "leave of absence" from the Williams F1 team as responsibility and blame collide one step from the top.

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The two winter tests are done and dusted. The cars have been back to their factories, dismantled and evaluated. The data has been analysed. We, of course, know nothing at all except the colour of the cars, who will sit in them and what changes in various regulations have done to their look. We've had endless interviews and soundbites from teams and drivers and we've learned nothing of value except that Bottas has had enough of playing second fiddle and plans to shed his Mr Nice Guy image and he's got chiselled features and a bovva-boy haircut to prove it. Does that mean the season opener in Melbourne next weekend is just a prelude to the season proper? Or are the teams actually ready?

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In his Newbury and Hobbes series of novels, author George Mann writes fantastical stories about where the Victorians' obsession with developing new technologies might go. They provide a bleak and terrifying future where automatons are available to pretty much anyone with money to spare and a will to kill. There are no benevolent butlers, no automated beauties as Hollywood portrays - only clunky machines with the single purpose of destruction - some with a worrying tendency to act alone once given instructions. Set 100 years ago, they are a parable for what some now want to ban. But the tech is only part of the problem. What about the people?

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One of the pluckiest teams in F1 for many years has been the outfit created by Peter Sauber and which has, more or less continuously, carried his name since (there was a short period where it appeared to be known as BMW). But now it's been adopted by the Fiat group which has gone from sticking the Alfa Romeo logo on the fin in return for money to a rather more involved - and stable - relationship. The announcement that the team would be renamed "Alfa Romeo Racing" made much of the long term funding. So does that mean the Sauber name is gone for evermore?

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There will be some in Formula One who will miss Force India but there will others who won't. It's a name that has close to zero connection with the team and that's been the case for a while, even before the companies behind it collapsed and were rescued by, amongst others, Lawrence Stroll. This week, it was made clear: the misnomer will come off the cars at the first opportunity and Stroll's will, at least to a degree, appear on one of them.

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F1 is a team sport and that means that, sometimes, hard decisions produce results that prejudice one or other side of the garage. Team orders are both a necessary evil and a despicable trick. Gamblers hate team orders (serves them right for trying to fly in the face of the nature of the sport then whining when it goes against them), fans of pure racing hate them (but those who are fans of the sport, per se, acknowledge their importance) and casual watchers don't understand them. Yes, they interfere with the spectacle and yes, they leave a bad taste in the mouth. And the 2018 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi left a taste that even the victory champagne could not wash away for either the man who came in second nor, importantly, the winner. And that's sad for the events eclipsed a truly great race, but that's not this story.

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