Short takes after a long Easter holiday weekend:
Formula One returns to the streets of Shanghai next weekend but all anybody will be talking about is the race that comes a week later, the Grand Prix of Bahrain.
Once again there is a race scheduled and once again there is serious unrest on the island in the Persian Gulf of the type that led to the cancellation of the event a year ago: demonstrators being killed (at last count, more than 40), the military being used to stifle dissent and the incarceration of hundreds of protesters including one man who was sentenced to life in prison.
He has been on a hunger strike for nearly 60 days and there are fears he may die.
Bernie Ecclestone met in London (the perfect place to get a grip on the actual situation, don’t you think?) with Bahrain GP organizers last week and told reporters later that there are "no worries, the race will be held."
Hopefully, someone close to Ecclestone, or to FIA chief Jean Todt, will help them come to their senses and call it off again.
F1 cannot be seen to aggravate a situation so that more people are killed. F1 cannot put its own people – drivers, team personnel, FIA employees – in danger. F1 has to protect its sponsors, who could unwittingly find themselves on the wrong side of the world opinion fence.
F1 has to stay out of Bahrain and if it doesn’t, it will be making a huge mistake.
Who names their kid "Bubba?"
I was wondering this as I watched the last few holes of the Masters on Sunday, which was won by Bubba Watson. The other thing I was wondering about is how come professional golf is as commercially-driven and commerically oriented as auto racing and yet I never hear a professional golfer thank his sponsors for helping him win a golf tournament.
For instance, Phil Mickelsen was interviewed while TV was killing time before the extra-holes playoff. He wore a visor that had K.P.M.G. written on it, a shirt that had the Barclays logo on it, the word Callaway on his golf bag could be seen a mile away and yet he didn’t mention any of them in the interview, which was all about how he screwed up out on the course and didn’t win the Masters.
Contrast that with any racing driver in Victory Lane who can’t wait to thank each and every one of his team’s sponsors, which is so hokey and boring that your eyes immediately glaze over and you wonder how it all started?
Give me the golfers over the car racers any day when it comes to sophisticated face time on TV.
Once upon a time, you really had to know what you were doing when you applied to drive a racing car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In fact, when you were just a wet-behind-the-ears wannabe Indy car driver, they often wouldn’t even let you into the place, never mind get into a car, and you can ask legends like Parnelli Jones and A.J. Foyt if you don’t believe me.
The "four phase (speed)" test, carried out under the watchful eyes of veteran drivers, saw more than a few future champions sent away to "get more experience" before they would be granted the privilege of trying to qualify a car for the "500." Guys like Eddie Sachs and Don Branson were made to eat crow before going on to get their first big chance.
Then came the rear-engine revolution, which brought the "sporty car" set to the Speedway, and the era of ride-buying began. All sorts of people who had absolutely no business being in racing cars at Indianapolis were not only passing the test but qualifying for the big race too (they used to flunk them in the old days, but not anymore).
Remember the Whittington brothers, Don, Dale and Bill, who all made the field in 1982 (and then went to jail for drug smuggling)? And Patrick Bedard, a columnist for Car & Driver magazine, who qualified in 1984 (and then managed to survive an absolutely God-awful wreck, which convinced him to stop being so foolish)?
As a result, all sorts of people became convinced that Indy was easy. Remember Phillipe Gache? Neither do I, but he made it into the Indy 500. Lynn St. James made it in one year and Bobby Rahal didn’t. Figure that one out. I could go on.
Now Jean Alesi is going to try. Alesi was a Formula One driver who drove for six teams in a 12-year career that ended in 2001. He was very popular with the fans, worked hard, was very cooperative with the media and won exactly one race – Montreal in 1995.
He is 47 and is going to drive in the Indy 500 for Lotus, he says.
It has been amusing for me, over the years, to listen to the drivers in a glamour-puss class like – say – Indy cars say things like: "Yes, when I finish with the open-wheel cars, I think I’ll go to NASCAR." And they said things like that because, at the time, guys like Richard Petty were still racing when they were in their fifties and a lot of them were balding and had pot-bellies, like Benny Parsons. So how hard could it be?
But while they were waiting to "retire" to NASCAR, NASCAR itself was changing and as a lot of single-seat drivers have found out since, stock car racing is not a walk in the park and, in fact, a lot of them have had their butts kicked.
Indy car racing is enjoying something of a renaissance (more drivers are being paid than are paying) and, as Rubens Barrichello is finding out, it’s tougher than it looks from the outside.
So, it's tough out there. And Indianapolis can rise up and bite you, too, as Nelson Piquet Sr. found out in 1992 when he lost control and went into a concrete wall at very high speed, breaking most of the bones in his feet and ankles.
Three-time world champion Piquet found out the hard way. One-race Alesi should take note.