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Barcelona and Bahrain

I think there needs to be a new standard term to describe what’s going on in various countries at the moment. I, as perhaps the world’s most influential arbiter of twenty-first-century English language usage, have decided that “unrest” is really not up to the job. I know it has an appealing, almost poetic quality to it, but that’s part of the problem — to me, it seems better suited to describing something slightly less dire than soldiers gunning down protesters in the streets. I generally advocate using the most direct and precise language possible (you will never hear me saying someone has “passed away”), but if one more general word has to do, can I interest you in something like “conflict” or “violence” or “bloodshed”? To me, “unrest” seems only marginally less a euphemism than, say, “the late unpleasantness.”

As even many non-fans now know, the grand prix you and I had been counting down the minutes to for months now has been canceled because of the “unrest” in Bahrain — or, as it was put in at least one headline, the unrest itself became sentient and decided to cancel the race. Either way, we now have two more weeks to wait. No other choice was possible, really, in light of the terrible things that have been happening. F1 is, they say, apolitical, and human-rights records are clearly not at the top of the list of grand prix venue selection criteria, but presumably even Bernie Ecclestone would balk at holding the Chinese Grand Prix while tanks are rolling through Tiananmen Square.

Now the talk is of whether the race should be truly canceled or merely postponed — and, if the latter, until when? The calendar is nice and full this year, and there isn’t a lot of leeway for squeezing another race in. It also seems doubtful that the situation in Bahrain will be cozy and harmonious by the end of the season, especially considering it actually hasn’t been that way for many years. Perhaps it will suffice, as far as the people in charge of making such decisions are concerned, if the situation is harmonious enough — for example, if soldiers haven’t shot a protester in. . .a month? Two months? What will be used as the criteria? (And will whoever is ruling Bahrain at that point even want the grand prix?)

So if there is going to be a twentieth race this season, should it be held elsewhere? If it is, it will probably be held at some “established” circuit that’s actually been “built” or whatever — which I suppose is fine, if that’s what you’re into. However, I would like to point out that I have designed a masterful street circuit in Hoboken, New Jersey, that has much to recommend it. Did you know, for instance, that Hoboken is believed to have the largest number of bars per capita in the known universe? Whether this is technically true is beside the point — the fact remains that there are a hell of a lot of bars in Hoboken, hence its party-town reputation. It’s like Monte Carlo, in a way, except with a slightly lower average income and slightly bigger hair. My circuit’s start/finish straight, which lies along the Hudson River, affords a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline, and I would suggest that the Hoboken Grand Prix be held as a night race for maximum effect. (I realize much of the rest of the F1-viewing world might have a problem with getting up in the middle of the night to watch a race. But hi, welcome to my world!)

All joking aside, I honestly do hope that somehow there is a twentieth race. Like so many cold, heartless fans who care for nothing but their own happiness, I am of the “the more races, the better” school of thought. There is no number that would be too high, as far as I’m concerned. Each break in the schedule is prolonged mild torture, like weeks of being forced to listen to smooth jazz while being poked with a fork. Even the usual two weeks between races is difficult to cope with. I understand that a crowded schedule is tiring and can be a burden on F1 professionals’ lives, but. . .  Well, I say “understand,” but “acknowledge” would be more accurate. I’m sensing a less than one hundred percent body-and-soul commitment here that my brain just isn’t quite able to process fully. It gets as far as “there are people whose job pays for them to travel to every single race and yet would prefer to be doing different things” and sort of sputters to a halt. Probably because I’ve never had to shoulder that terrible burden myself. (But if anyone would like me to, I’d be more than happy to give it a try!)

I’ve just now realized that Barcelona preseason testing has, up to now, not figured into this post even one tiny bit, despite the title I gave it when I began writing. I was either traveling to or in Washington, DC, for most of this round of testing, and, in terms of F1 (and overall) newsworthiness, it was sort of overshadowed by the news from Bahrain. Testing appeared to be more of the same, from where I was sitting: certain teams seeming faster than they’re likely to be once the real season is under way, other teams seeming slower, one team in particular making people scratch their heads by doing strange things like claiming to finish their testing program one day early and taking off. (Really, HRT? Really?)

Widespread panic about McLaren continues, and it seems some fans are prepared to write off the team’s chances before the season even begins. Or maybe they’re just doing what we Chicago sports fans often do: trying to keep their expectations low to lessen disappointment down the line. Except McLaren is so not the Chicago Cubs of F1! I think it’s probably safe to have reasonable expectations at this point, isn’t it? What does Lewis Hamilton think of this year’s car as of the Barcelona test?

“OK, not too bad” but [he] added: “It’s difficult to know how much is the tyres and how much is the car.” [from F1 Fanatic]

Ah. Right. The tires. if you haven’t already, check out these interesting graphs posted by James Allen, illustrating the difference in performance between the Bridgestones and Pirellis during Barcelona testing last year and this year. The graphics hardly require further explanation; a glance at them ought to suffice! Between the degradation, the disparity among the compounds, and the “marbling,” these tires seem to be making people pretty nervous at the moment. They ought to make things lively, at least — but I’d imagine there’s such a thing as too lively when it comes to tire performance.

Next up: Barcelona again. March 8 feels like a very long way away.

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