Sky Diving: Digging into Sky Sports F1’s Launch

It’s upon us, Sky Sports F1 (HD) has launched. Sky Sports is now the Primary broadcaster of Formula 1 in the United Kingdom, a position of considerable prestige and an enormous responsibility and legacy for Britain’s biggest Broadcaster to live up to. Sky is a controversial company, notably owing to its ownership by unpopular media giant News Corp, so their coverage will sink or swim on its quality. Sentimentality will not help them. So how are they doing so far? Well…

The Channel kicked things off with a grandiose two-hour Season Preview. This was hosted by the Sky Sports F1 anchorman, Simon Lazenby. He was joined by the assembled poached BBC Talent of Martin Brundle, Ted Kravitz & Anthony Davidson. Along with them were Sky Sports’s own Georgie Thompson and newbie Damon Hill, the 1996 Formula One World Champion. Further poached BBC Talent in the forms of David Croft, the new Lead TV Commentator (Formerly of BBC Radio 5 Live, where he has been replaced by James Allen), and Natalie Pinkham were featured in inserts. As was the resident “lighter side” of Sky Sports, Fenners. More on his “pivotal” role later.

Podium Worthy Performances

The standout feature of the new channel is the in-depth technical coverage provided by the two men who started their F1 Careers as the few beacons of good on F1’s buttmonkey broadcaster, ITV. Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz both presented some decent packages looking more in-depth at technical features of the cars and the act of going racing (Or rather, testing).

Their performances were of the high standard F1 fans have come to expect of them, and both were and are clearly huge gets for Sky. Both men were at-ease on camera, they were clearly engaged and knowledgable and their features on the show were definitely the best segments.

Ted gave a fascinating look at some of the changes made to the cars aerodynamically using a 3D model which was superimposed in front of him on the set in an area known as the “Skypad” (More on the set and Skypad in particular later). He also anchored a decent Winter Testing Highlights package, which doubled as kind of a tease – fans are left to salivate at the prospect of Ted hosting all-day live coverage of the winter testing next season. Sky hasn’t promised this, but considering their resources, they’d be shortchanging fans enormously if it’s not at least being considered.

Martin, meanwhile, joined British Number 3 & 2011 Rookie of the Year, Paul di Resta, for the initial shakedown of the new Sahara Force India car, and was able to talk to di Resta over the Pit-to-Car radio as the new Flying Scot put the new challenger through its first minutes. It was a very cool bit of television and something a bit special – its rare for a broadcaster to get such privileged access to a car right as it debuts.

Anthony Davidson also impressed on his switch from radio commentator to expert TV pundit. He was totally at ease on camera, and he was clear and evidently well-informed. There was no talking-down to the audience from him, but he still managed to present things in an accessible manner and maintained a throughly pleasant demeanour throughout his time onscreen. He was also, along with Ted, one of the most natural feeling voices on the show – more on that shortly.

Scoring a Handful of Points

Damon Hill, always a thoroughly personable sort, did well enough on his debut as a pundit that his prospects look good. He was clear, his knowledge was evident and he was extremely friendly. There were a few slightly stilted interactions (Notably with Lazenby) but for the most part, Damon himself was impressive for a first-timer. With a few races under his belt, he will undoubtedly be right at home.

Natalie Pinkham didn’t get a massive amount of time to do her thing, but what she did do she did relatively well. She was called upon to conduct an interview with Mark Webber, which Sky took the questionable decision to conduct at a football match. This nakedly shallow attempt to connect with Sky’s pre-existing customer base almost ruined the segment, since it was hard for die hard F1 fans to take it seriously when the first half of the segment spent more time talking about Chelsea and Manchester United than it did Red Bull Racing and McLaren.

Pinkham managed, just about, to claw it back to relevance in the second half though. And her performance was decent enough, her genuine enthusiasm coming across well in the interview. Natalie isn’t the blockbuster hire that Kravitz and Brundle were, but she’s probably about as worthy of inclusion as Croft and Davidson. Certainly, she did a much better job justifying her pay check on launch night than Sky’s existing talent.

The show’s set is mostly functional, but it’d be a lie to say certain aspects of it aren’t a bit…Rubbish. The animated backdrop is fairly decent, generally showing a selection of old F1 cars rotating slowly but also able to show other things if need be (It notably changed at the close). The sofa and desk area though could probably use work. Thanks to Sky’s (baffling) insistence that on air talent wear suits, Lazenby, Hill & Brundle all looked slightly uncomfortable perched awkwardly on the edge of their seats. Ditching the ties did not do enough to make suits suitable attire for sitting somewhere other than at a desk.
Pasted Graphic 1

The “Skypad” section of the studio is also a mixed bag in terms of quality. The name, to begin with, is utterly and completely stupid. Every time on-air talent mentions “The Skypad” without a hint of irony, you can just about feel the entire viewing audience roll their eyes. The name is a (bafflingly moronic) reference to the giant touchscreen that powers the (In isolation, much more impressive) superimposed 3D car models and the highlights footage and statistics graphics the talent reference and analyse. It’s basically a giant iPad which lets the presenters and pundits call up statistics, video footage and so one by pressing onscreen icons.

This is, to be blunt, completely stupid. It’s pseudo-hip technological redundancy. There is nothing the Skypad touchscreen can do that someone in the Gallery could not do more efficiently without part of the screen having to be taken up by navigation controls or parts of the footage being covered by various parts of Anthony Davidson’s (Or whoever else has been stuck with the unenviable task of trying to make using the Skypad not seem preposterous on any given occasion) anatomy. The BBC sensibly did this the old-fashioned way. But Sky apparently want to convince us they have more whizzy cool technology. It’s twee and it’s stupid, but it’s a minor thing.

Toiling in the Mid-Field

The ad breaks are what will concern a great many of Sky Sports F1’s prospective customers. The broadcaster has promised uninterrupted coverage of the races along with the practice & qualifying sessions but commercials during the buildup and other content are a newfound nuisance. In this respect, it’s a little hard to judge based on the launch show. The first ad break came surprisingly late in the show, around 20-25 minutes after the start. Later on though, it seemed as if the breaks were longer than the parts of the show they were bookending.

So far then, no huge problems have emerged with the ad breaks in the launch show or the channel’s filler content, but judgment should be reserved until we see how much they hurt the build up etc. Particularly, how much of the 90 Minute Race Buildup is ads. 90 Minutes is the new record, but if more than half an hour is ads, the BBC still provided/provides more buildup than Sky.

The channel’s filler content so far has been pretty good. There seems to be a heavy rotation of Marmite-esque interview programme Legends of F1 (It’s well-liked by some, if considered too short, but I refuse to have anything to do with it because it’s anchored by Steve “The Lettuce” Rider, a man who actually managed to give the terribly produced Commentary of James Allen on ITV a run for its money as the most hateful part of their pitiful final years on air as the F1 broadcaster).

Also on offer is plenty of archival stuff for diehards to relive the glory days. Some of this is presented in a packaged documentary style, some is simply highlights – of note, the channel is playing the Official Formula One 2011 Season Review (And, presumably, will play others) which was previously only available on DVD and Blu-Ray. The prospect of being able to watch (And, on Sky+HD, record) these previously optical media-exclusive Season Review packages on TV is certainly a pleasant one. From watching the 2011 Review, it does seem like the ad breaks are well distributed in these. The review has been split up into four programming segments. I watched the first two, covering the first half of the season, in a back-to-back block. It works well.

As I said, so far the filler content seems good. If it continues to be this enticing, it will undoubtedly be worthy of positioning higher up the rankings than I’ve placed it here. I have kept it in the mid-field section primarily because it remains to be seen if Sky can keep the channel fresh and exciting for a whole year.

Getting Lapped Three Times

Just like in anything though, there are always aspects of any given broadcaster’s F1 coverage which leave a lot to be desired. The BBC’s post-ITV era spoilt fans by having fewer of these major niggles than ever – primarily, they were limited to Jonathan Legard’s grating commentary style and a distinct systemic Red Bull bias. There were other minor flaws with the BBC’s coverage (Eddie Jordan is a love or loathe prospect as a pundit – not because some people love him and some people loathe him but because sometimes he is contemptibly awful, while others he is extremely good) but for the most part it was lacking in deal breakers (Whether this continues to be the case in the new era remains to be seen, but is unlikely – the lack of 100% live coverage is already a huge minus point).

Sky, considering the act it has to follow and the fact it is the first primary F1 Broadcaster in the UK to demand payment from fans, had few excuses for weaknesses in their lineup. Unfortunately, they have two whacking great problems already, and we haven’t even seen their race coverage yet. However, it does not bode well that one of these flaws is the anchorman himself, Simon Lazenby.

Indeed, it is perhaps indicative of just why the BBC were so good at Formula One that Lazenby and Thompson, the only two human parts of Sky Sports F1 which are bespoke Sky components, are its weakest. Indeed, extrapolating that further, everything about Sky Sports F1 which is more Sky Sports than it is F1, is thoroughly in need of retooling. The set and baffling suits-only dress code – both Sky Sports mainstays – are equally dragging the show down. Formula One in suits, and Formula One on a set, just do not feel natural. ITV used a set for a number of years, but discarded it because it was isolating the buildup and analysis from the action – one of the few changes made later in their coverage which was an improvement.

Luckily, the set in question seems to be intended to be used primarily for The F1 Show, the weekly magazine show, and will not be involved in the race coverage.

UPDATE 11/3/2012: Alas, it seems Sky is planning to use a Studio for the race coverage, with their Insider Twitter account Tweeting a picture of its container being unpacked today. Whether or not it is a duplicate remains to be seen, but I will certainly be giving my thoughts on its role in the race coverage after Melbourne.

Lazenby and Thompson (Alongside, presumably, those damned suits) on the other hand, willbe involved in the coverage of Grand Prix weekends. And if that’s the case, they need to step up their game enormously from what they demonstrated on launch night. Lazenby was awkward, false and grating. His enthusiasm seemed fake, his questions for Brundle & Hill were frequently asinine, he was clearly lacking in knowledge about F1 and he even managed to cut off Brundle a couple of times. Cutting off the jewel in the coverage’s crown? Not a good move.

Yes, it seemed Lazenby had been plucked directly out of the rugby coverage and dumped onto the F1 set without a moment’s preparation. And considering we know he had plenty of preparation, that’s appalling. Lazenby’s performance is particularly atrocious compared to Jake Humphrey on the BBC. Humphrey is a BBC Lifer, he is Mr BBC, they have been grooming him to be their most significant talent for years. And yet, his presence in the F1 coverage always felt earned, right from the start. You never feel like Jake is just there because he’s the BBC’s golden boy. His enthusiasm is clearly genuine. Lazenby…Not so much.

Lazenby’s biggest crime though is probably his ill-informed nature. He provoked widespread face palming when he referred to drivers & team personnel changing teams and positions over the winter as the “transfer window”. This was also an example of another problem with bespoke Sky aspects of the show.

They’re dumbing the coverage down hard if the launch show is anything to go by. Yes, they’re offering some cool in-depth technical stuff with Martin & Ted, but the general presented segments are being approached the way Sky approaches football. Sky needs to learn – fast – that F1 fans are generally significantly better informed & engaged with their sport than football fans, who tend to be more casual simply by sheer force of numbers.

The worst part is that two different people are competing to be the poster child of Sky’s dumbed down coverage. One the one hand, we have Georgie Thompson nodding moronically as Antony Davidson speaks and asking Jenson Button preposterously vague and pointless questions along the lines of “so are you a good driver?”. It’s not lost on me that Thompson is an attractive lady. I like good-looking women as much as the next straight guy, but I also like women who are intelligent and I like on-air talent to come across as well-informed. Thompson seems to be setting about to single-handedly undo all the good work done by Suzi Perry or Lee McKenzie (And to a lesser extent, Natalie Pinkham) in raising the profile of women in motorsport broadcasting. Thompson’s presence smacks of being part of a Sky Sports “viewers are morons” policy which requires eye candy to keep the LADS interested.

Further evidence that Sky just doesn’t seem to get F1.

And if you want some more proof, it comes in the form of the other person trying to be the poster child of Sky dumbing down the coverage, Fenners. Fenners is, apparently, some dickhead who used to be slightly popular on Soccer AM and has since enjoyed a minor resurgence as a “lighter side” personality on Sky Sports’s Football coverage. I’m not a football fan, so I had no idea who he was or why I should care. I found out later – they didn’t bother explaining what he was doing there.

Evidently Sky felt the need to provide a touchstone for the dullards they (Apparently) take football fans to be in case they decided to check out the Sky Sports F1 channel (Terrifyingly, we were promised he will be back throughout the year). His whole schtick was wandering around during testing being uninformed. Not becoming more informed I hasten to add. His taped segment focused entirely on him being an uninformed twat and making an idiot of himself. If this is how Sky sees sports fans they need help. It was particularly grating having to put up with this nonsense in the launch show.

Who, aside from F1 fans, was really going to watch the launch show? You’d have to be at least a little engaged with F1 already to care about watching the launch show. So what was he for?

Anyway, there you have it. Those are my thoughts on Sky Sports F1 (HD) so far. I’ll be checking in with more thoughts on the F1 coverage throughout the year – including taking a look at the new BBC packages on TV & radio and comparing them to Sky’s offerings – so keep an eye out for more.

Christmas Letter 2011

Season’s Greetings Friends, Family & assorted hangers-on!

It’s that time of year once again where many people choose to send each other nice simple Christmas Cards – short, sweet indications that they’re thinking of you at this, the most wonderful time of the year. And, as has become tradition, I am instead wasting your time with this, my annual Christmas Letter, in which I reflect at unnecessary length on the year that was and, of course, the festive season.

So here I am, sitting in the glow of the unnecessarily large Christmas tree in my bedroom with my (infamous, and only partially accurately named) Xmas in Pompey 2 Spotify playlist filling the room with the sounds of Christmas cheer. Which sounds incredibly cheesy, but I’ve always said* it’s not cheesy if you can think of something either as cheesy, or more cheesy, which is also less appropriate for the given situation. And I have:

A Margherita.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the reflecting on the year. And frankly I think nothing this year says more about our modern era than the way that godawful “Friday” song by Rebecca Black infected every facet of our lives over the course of about a month earlier in the year – and it already feels like it’s ancient history.

Either the years are getting longer or we’re finding more ways to do stuff in them. Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has come up with a way to find out in Facebook Timeline, whilst Twitter continues to give us an avenue to voice our every trivial thought (And say bitchy things about the way candidates on The Apprentice choose to dress). And I for one welcome our new Social Media overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted (Ahem) TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

Speaking of TV, the has been a great year for TV and I can prove it in just ten words:

The Simpsons has been renewed through its twenty-fifth season.

There have of course been some downsides though. The X Factor has unfortunately not been canceled yet, Big Brother was (Unfathomably) brought back and the BBC decided to hand over half their F1 (More on that in a moment) coverage to Sky Sports, which was probably not the best idea considering that they did so right at the same time as the entire country was furious with Rupert Murdoch, News Corp & Sky over the flagrant corruption & use of phone hacking. As own goals go, the BBC pulled off a belter there.

Oh and while I’ve got you, I still say Germany should have won Eurovision again. Yeah, I’m still bitter about that. And what?

Anyway, I said I’d say something about Formula 1. Ignoring the fact Vettel made the whole season rather dull with his overpowered Red Bull car (I really don’t think it’s fair that he gets a car which gives you wings), this was still a cracking year with some all-time classic races, including the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, the longest race in F1 history (A record it will hold forever as the rules have now been changed to prevent races running as long as that one did).

Also, over the two-year period since Jenson Button joined McLaren, he’s outscored Lewis Hamilton. At the risk of saying I told you so, I TOTALLY FRIGGING TOLD YOU SO.

Ahem…Anywho, I suppose I should say something about some other sports for the sake of balance, but they’re going to have to be eternally true platitudes because I barely pay attention to most of them so er…Manchester United are evil, cricket is dull & tedious, Rugby is vaguely homoerotic etc. etc.

Also if I don’t mention video games, the citizens of Giant Bomb (dot) Com will probably shoot me in the knee with an arrow. I don’t fully get that joke because I never played Skyrim (Too busy playing The Legend of Zelda IN THREE DEE on my 3DS), but they make references to it all the time on Reddit so I guess it must be pretty funny. The biggest thing in games this year for me was probably the return of Pokémon. Oh god how I played a lot of Pokémon.

So then, with that all out of the way, I leave you with this topical reference to both 2011 & 2012 in the form of a brain teaser:

If you ask Siri to schedule “the end of the world” for December 21, 2012, does that make you God if the world does end then**?

Have a
Merry Christmas,
Happy Holidays,
Helluva Hanukkah
Perfect Pancha Ganapti***,
Delectable Dies Natalis Solis Invicti***,
Dignified Quaid-e-Azam’s Day***,
Marvellous Malkh-Festival,
Kwazy Kwanzaa,
And a Happy New Year,

Your Pal,
Paul Douglas.

* Not true. I’ve never said that.
** No, no it doesn’t. That would be stupid.
*** Look it up.

Reach for the Sky: Dissecting the Sky Sports/BBC Sport F1 Partnership

On Friday, the Formula 1 world was rocked by news that UK Television Broadcasts of the sport would be fundamentally changing starting from 2012. The state-supported and industry-leading BBC had originally been expected to hold exclusive rights to Formula 1 through the end of the 2012 season, after securing the rights from rivals ITV, who ditched them as a result of their almost perpetual cash-strapped nature.

More incredible was the new primary rights holder: technically, Sky Sports. This despite the fact it was generally accepted the rights had to be in the hands of a free-to-air broadcaster. How did FOM get around this? The rights actually went to a Sky Sports/BBC Sport Co-Operative deal. A deal which will give the BBC 10 races, or 50% of the season (Though in the event of 21 races, the extra race would be Sky exclusive). The two broadcasters will share commentary and some other resources, but use different presentation packages.

For the 10+ races the BBC is not showing live, they are showing…Well, what exactly? Bernie Ecclestone has apparently led the members of FOTA (Formula One Teams’ Association) to believe that they will be showing the full race on a time delay. The BBC, however, has seemed to play down these reports – they indicate an extended highlights show, clocking in at around 75 minutes. Either way, the show or taped race would air in prime time on Sunday – AKA the least valuable kind of prime time.

Still, the BBC package will air the day of the race, whatever the minutiae are.

This bizarre setup with the BBC acting as some kind of “Sky Sports Preview” is unique. No other sport, Motorsport or otherwise, operates this way, and the BBC agreeing to play second fiddle to Sky has made some observers distinctly uneasy.

Setting aside the practical and TV industry implications for a moment, let’s consider the financial impact of the deal. The Sky Sports/BBC Sport Partnership is paying out a combined £55 Million, up on the £40 Million the BBC had been paying out for the exclusive rights. The teams have been told this will factor out to about £1 Million per season extra paid from FOM to each team.

In F1 terms, £1 Million a season is…Not a huge deal. Even the back markers reportedly blow throw more than £30 Million to just show up and not completely embarrass themselves. For frontrunners McLaren, this is chump change. So one could reasonably wonder why they are going along with this so readily?

Consider also, McLaren (In particular) are majority funded by sponsorship revenue. This means they in particular should be concerned about any potential decrease in viewership. It seems like hubris to claim (As FOM, amongst others, have) that this deal might grow the F1 audience in the UK. The idea seems to be that being in BBC1 Prime TIme will inherently draw more people to the sport.

That…Sounds like a huge assumption. The argument seems to be casual fans will be more interested in a prime time highlights reel than in watching the race at midday (or odd hours for fly-aways). There is some merit to that idea, but it still seems like there is room to question it. We’re talking about a delay of six to, potentially, 12+ hours. It seems…Unlikely – to say the least – casual fans will go out of their way to avoid spoilers, but counterintuitively one could also reasonably question whether they’d bother watching the highlights reel once they knew the result?

Smaller teams also look set to get screwed – hard – by this. They get their best exposure for sponsors during qualifying and the exact kinds of “boring” bits the BBC’s editors are likely to cut for the highlights reel (For example, the leaders putting a lap on them). These losses will not in any way be mitigated by Sky Sports viewerships. Consider…

Sky Sports 1 enjoys a whopping 0.9% Audience share. This is HALF the audience share of BBC Three. It’s barely 0.2 more than the anaemic share held by BBC Four, which this deal is widely believed to have been orchestrated to save. Sky Sports 2, which will share Sky Sports 1’s duties as F1 broadcaster, has an eye-watering-ly small 0.4% share.

For comparison, the BBC’s F1 audience has averaged 4-5 million viewers, with peaks in excess of 6 Million – which is 10% of the UK Population, never mind UK TV Audience. And there is very little demographic overlap between existing F1 fans and Sky Sports subscribers – who are typically more interested in ball games like Association Football and Cricket.

So then, there is a strong argument that this deal will massively reduce the audience for Formula 1 in the UK. And it raises big questions about the financial impact of the deal on teams. There is one other area this deal could potentially have a massive impact, as suggested by Ewan Marshall at GP Focus: the prestige of the Championships.

By making only ten races live on free-to-air television, this deal implicitly adds prestige to the already prestigious Monaco and British Grands Prix. It will possibly have a similar effect on other events (Potentially including, regrettably, poor Grands Prix like the Singapore Night Race if they are included amongst the ten). What can’t be known at this stage is what impact this shift in emphasis to fewer, “marquee” races will have on the public’s perception of the Championships.

In American Motorsport, there are several Championships in various categories. What’s interesting, though, is that unlike in Europe (Where even casual fans tend to idolise championship winners like Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso), a lot of casual fans are more interested in which drivers win certain marquee events – like the Indy 500. Is it possible that, at least amongst casual British fans, this deal will decrease the importance of championships?

Are we looking at a future where casual viewership for most of the Grands Prix (Even most of the free-to-air Grands Prix) decreases because winning the big-name events like Monaco and Silverstone are seen as more important than winning the championship? Such a shift would take us back to the pre-fifties era of rand Prix racing, before the inception of the World Drivers’ Championship.

It’s a big if, but do we really want to go back there?

So there’s just a few points of interest from the Sky Sports/BBC Sport Joint F1 Broadcast deal. The crazy thing is, this is such uncharted territory, we have little to no way of knowing what the potential ramifications are. It could affect things we’ve not even considered.

Christmas Letter 2009

It’s that time again folks.

Yes, it’s the time of the year when, in lieu of sending Christmas cards (Because sitting and writing someone’s name then my name then someone’s name then my name over and over and over is the kind of thing which will eventually drive me over the edge and thus cause me to go on the psychopathic rampage which the majority of you are still expecting of me), I write out a long, winding look at the year that was and what lies ahead, with characteristic sarcasm and comical faux-hipness. Because I’m “like” “with it”. Er…”dawg”!

So then…To business!

Ah what a year it has been. For me, terrific. Wonderful things have happened over and over again (Green Day – the best band in the world seriously don’t even argue, turning 18, the computer I’m writing this on, Disneyland which is like heaven for me and of course a certain Mr. Jenson Button winning the World Championship).

But as with any year, 2009 has had it’s fair share of flaws. Yes, for every Barack Obama becoming President, there has been an unfortunate but inescapable Twilight Saga release. In the future, they will look back on years like this as the beginning of the zombie apocalypse which is still speeding on its way to destroying our world as we know it, presumably within the next 5 years.

For those of you about my age over here in the UK, this year has also probably begun your association with the most unspeakably horrific torture device known to man. Yes, I speak of UCAS, which dominates your life for months at a time stressing you out about filling in a form, getting Personal Statements & References written and all this as soon as humanly possible rush rush rush. Then it immediately turns into the most insufferable waiting game ever devised – it’s like an ironic punishment in hell, it taunts you for your previous desire to slow things down by going to the other extreme.

Cruel and unusual.

If you’re like me (To those very few of you, you have my sympathy) you mostly measure a year’s worth on the quality of the entertainment put out that year. On that front, New Moon aside, 2009 is a standout success. We’ve had brilliant movies like The Hangover, Role Models & Zombieland as well as amazing TV shows making their debuts (Such as FlashForward) or re-launching (The fantastic Scrubs Season 9 (Med School)).

In more good entertainment news, word reached us this year that Channel 4 will not be buying any more seasons of Big Brother, ending its run on the channel in 2010. Every reasonable person in the country is delighted by this news. In less welcome news, ITV (Continuing its downward spiral into being the most vulgar unappealingly cheap and tacky network on Television) has ordered more seasons of The X-Factor. Which means 2010 will be another year in which the Christmas Number 1 will go largely un-contested…

Eff you ITV. You ruin everything.

In the world of video games, Killzone 2 released this year and overshadowed all other First Person Shooters. Honestly can’t think of a single other significant one. None at all. Nope. Modern What 2? Never heard of it. It’s the biggest entertainment release of all time? Oh that Modern Warfare 2. Why didn’t you say so?

In more interesting video game news, The Beatles: Rock Band released this year, broadening the appeal of Rock Band-like games as well as of The Beatles’ superb music. As if Harmonix, makers of Rock Band, hadn’t done enough to make me love them, they recently announced that next year they will release another game. Green Day: Rock Band. Thereby immortalising my two favourite bands in their own games.

Less fortunate this year were those Activision guys. Tony Hawk: Ride is the punchline to every video game joke made from now until Project Natal releases.

On a more universal note, the economy has started to recover! That’s good!

But VAT in the UK is going back up. That’s bad.

But it’s not going up to 20%! That’s good!

But the Tories will probably put it up to 21% (That’s bad) as soon as they get in (That’s bad).

Potentially far worse news from the land of politics is that the BNP got into the European Parliament. Which is both a disgrace and nonsensical. How can a party who think anything and everyone from outside the UK is sub-human represent us in Europe? It’s a logical absurdity!

And on that note, we come to “Climategate”. I’m going to put this to rest once and for all: The world is getting warmer. We’re at least partly to blame through CO2 emissions. Get over it and help us start fixing it.

Jeez, is it that hard to stop burning things left and right?

So then, what lies ahead, in (As weirdos call it) The Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Ten (Or as the hipsters call it “Twenty-Ten”)? Well how the hell should I know, I’m not psychic. I do however have some predictions for your amusement:

1) The Tories will win the General Election and ruin the country, but idiots will still claim things have improved.
2) A celebrity will die and the whole world will overreact.
3) Someone, somewhere, will have sex with somebody else. This will piss off a third party who will throw a hissy fit about it and/or go to the press.
4) A man will discover the Meaning of Life and start trying to tell people it. Nobody will listen.
5) Britain’s Got Talent will still suck.
6) The X-Factor will suck even more.
7) Twilight Saga: Eclipse will suck even more than James Cameron’s Avatar clearly does. Dan Berry will not notice due to his guy crush on Robert Pattinson/Taylor Lautner/Dan, seriously what the hell.
8) Kanye West will continue to be a douchebag.
9) Sarah Palin will, on at least 4 separate occasions in each case, fail to spell her own name or even the word “a” correctly.
10) I will write another Christmas letter.

Now, let’s see how my predictions form last year did:

1) Sky will stay blue (Correct!)
2) Music will continue to dominate culture (Correct!)
3) Economy will finally begin to rebound (Correct!)
4) Summer will be hot (Correct!)
5) Spring will suck just as much as ever (Correct!)
6) Someone, somewhere, will be inappropriately offended by something they know was not meant in that way – they will proceed to destroy someone’s career over it despite being aware they meant and caused no actual harm (At least half-correct!)

Wow! Maybe I am psychic! On that bombshell, I’m off to make a killing gambling on sporting events!

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and of course a Happy New Year!

Paul “Jensonb” Douglas


I always knew he could do it. Through all the years of uncompetitive cars, and with so many people calling it into question, I always knew, deep down, Jenson Button was born to win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship. And so I stuck stubbornly to supporting him, even as the rest of the world seemed to write him off as a has-been.

And finally, for those of us who dared to believe, for Jenson himself, for Brawn GP (The finest team ever to field an F1 Car), for their friends and their families…It all came good. This past Sunday, Jenson stormed from 14th on the grid to a 5th place finish, clinching the 2009 Formula 1 World Champion.

Simultaneously, Jenson’s Brawn GP Team sealed the World Constructor’s Championship when Red Bull failed to score the 1-2 finish they would have needed (And that would have required Jenson and Rubens to not score – both men did).

I can’t adequately describe the enormity of the difference in my emotions from Saturday night to Sunday night. Saturday, after JB was given junk tyre pressures and went out in Qualifying 2, down at 14th on the grid, with Rubens on Pole…I was distraught. It seemed, through poor luck, JB might yet be denied the title he so deserved. Sure, Abu Dhabi was there as a safety net, but like Jenson himself, the newfound enormity of that task hit me and hit me hard.

It was so bad, I had to take part in a Halo 3 Giant Bomb Community Game Night (AKA a Bombing Run) to cheer myself up enough to sleep.

Once I got up on Sunday, I resolved myself to a positive outlook – again, like Jenson himself. I knew JB had overcome hurdles this size before and gotten decent results, I knew he’s the fastest man in racing trim and I knew he was the master overtaker.

And so it proved, and it led to me being as elated that night as I was inconsolable the previous one. It was magical, and it capped off the best week of my life – no work, 18th birthday (Hence booze amongst all the other great stuff), MacBook Pro and my driver, my team taking the World Titles.

But of course things ain’t over yet. After 4 days of school this week, I have a half day of Work Saturday, then I have the Green Day Concert in the evening. And then on Sunday it’s off to Paris – which means Disneyland on Monday and Friday.

October 2009 is the greatest month of my life.

The Wheels Are Off

So as you probably guessed from my internet pseudonym and the prevalence of Formula One merchandise in my room, I am a massive Formula One fan and a Jenson Button supporter. I’m also not one to take people screwing with things I like lying down.

And now, Formula One is headed in a dark direction and I’m not sure if I can follow it. North America is out. France is out. United Kingdom is (All but) out – no way can they finish the new circuit in time, it’s a decoy. Bernie has lost it. Mad Max has gotten madder.

Bernie has decided that rather than a sensible solution to the devalued win (Such as replacing the 10,8,6,5,4,3,2,1 system with 12,8,6,5,4,3,2,1), he wants to replace the points system entirely. With medals. For the podium only. Whoever wins the most races is crowned campion. God help us.

Bernie has developed a “win is all” mentality. A lot of us in F1 like to see the lower down teams hitting the points once in a while. They have very little chance of earning a medal! It’s not all about who’s at the front, it’s about the whole field.

Mad Max, meanwhile, has decided A1GP is a better sport than F1 (In fact, it is a rubbish sport) and so is attempting to standardise engines, wings, anything he can think of. I think at some point he’ll try and standardise drivers. Standardised parts are not Formula One. They are the mark of a second-class Formula.

And yet, the sport marches on along this path. It’s not what the fans want. But the fans now seem irrelevant. I mean, look at the prices of tickets to see a race! They’re unbelievable, especially considering the terrible seats and poor views (Most seats can’t even see a screen to follow the races on).

And so as LG ink a global partner deal and BBC finally wrest the rights back from ITV, Formula One is on the precipice of doom. I don’t like where this is going. Not one bit. The manufacturers are already threatening to quit over the standard engines rule. Honda and Formula One’s bread and butter, Ferrari, are particularly opposed to the idea.

And who can blame them. The manufacturers are in it to show off their prowess as car makers. If they’re not making the cars, then what, exactly, is the point? Max and his lot have spent too long fretting about the fate of the independent teams. They are failing to see that their attempts to help those teams are hurting the majority of the teams, the manufacturers. And losing them wold be a far larger blow.

Independents can be bought by Multi-Nationals like Red Bull looking for an advertising vehicle (No pun intended) with global appeal. Manufacturers pulling out en-masse would leave far too many teams looking for buyers. Ferrari wouldn’t even sell their team, so even if all others found a buyer, the grid would be piddling.

And not all the teams would get bought. There aren’t 5 multinationals looking to do a Red Bull. 2, maybe. Honda and the Mercedes-owned part of McLaren would be the hardest to offload.

And it looks like Honda, mindful of this, might be getting out first, leaving the other 4 manufacturers to trip over each other in a desperate bid to find buyers. But there are no guarantees. The teams may simply fold, or else become tiny independents.

Formula One is being destroyed by out of touch old businessmen and lawyers with no interest in sport. They are making changes without giving even a thought to the consequences and the sport is only going to suffer for it.