Future looks bleak for Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel is a 4-time Formula 1 champion. He is the first ballot hall of fame in the future with his trophy cabinet and the record of the youngest pole sitter ever. He has been the lead driver in Ferrari since 2015, and up to, possibly, today. In the Italian Grand Prix today, Vettel started fourth behind the Mercedes drivers and his much younger and less experienced teammate Charles Leclerc. Instead of fighting in the top, he spun, came back to the track dangerously, hit Lance Stroll and received a 10-second stop and go penalty, the most severe punishment behind only disqualification. His race was over at the point. Luckily for Ferrari and all the Tifosis, Charles Leclerc withstood the assaults from the Silver Arrows to win the race, first for Ferrari since 2010. As a result, Leclerc has now beaten Vettel in qualifying 7 races in a row, leapfrogged the German in the driver standing and been responsible for Ferrari’s two wins this season. The changing of the guards seems completed.

What went wrong for the 4-time champion? Every problem and mistake he has made for the past months looks to stem from his disastrous race in Germany last year. He was cruising to the win, but crashed out of the race on his own. Since then, he hasn’t been himself. Mistake after mistake and after each one, the pressure kept piling on. There is an argument that Vettel can’t cope with hungrier and younger teammates. At Red Bull, he was thoroughly beaten y Ricciardo. Now, Charles Leclerc has gotten the better of him. The pressure to win at Ferrari is incredible. His failure to win a world title with the Reds isn’t completely his fault. The team failed to give him a competitive car all year long. But his mistakes recently have been nobody’s but his and his alone.

Ferrari repeatedly said he would still race for the Red team next year and I am confident that is the case. Nonetheless, what if next year will be even worse since Leclerc will likely be more settled at Ferrari. He won’t secure a drive at Mercedes. Nor will he at Red Bull now that Max is the team leader and Red Bull is known for promoting drivers internally. Where would he go? Rumors of retirement have been circulating around the paddock and I would hate to see him retire at 33. He has still much to offer. But I think Ferrari should take him off the grid for the remainder of 2019 and install a young driver next to Charles. Doing so will give Vettel time to collect himself and get ready for next year as well as test a potential option in case the German walks after 2020. If a break can’t get him back to his formidable old self, I doubt leaving him on track for the rest of the season will do him any better.

Nonetheless, I wish for his sake and the team’s (I have been a Ferrari fan since 2005 and the last 10 years has been rough) that Vettel would find his way back to the top of the echelon of F1 soon.

If you are intellectually curious, these facts about Formula 1 will intrigue you

I am a Formula 1 fanatic. The sport is unpredictable, exciting and intellectually intriguing. Everything about the drivers and the cars is about maximizing every last drop of performance and gaining even one hundredth or one tenth of a second. The level of attention to details and state-of-the-art technologies that go to every aspect of the sport is astonishing. Here are a few clips that I found very helpful in understanding the sport. Even if you are not interested in the racing, I think it’s interesting when you are just curious about how stuff works

Car setup

A car setup is instrumental to the performance of the car. It’s more of an art and trial-error than science and there are a lot that go into the setup such as the nature of the tracks, driver preference, strengths & weaknesses of the cars, weather, tyre…The video below explains how one millimeter can mean the world in a car setup!

Braking System

Brakes are crucial in racing, even in commuter cars. As F1 cars travel at such a high speed and brake multiple times in one lap, brakes can get hot and fail, causing drivers to crash and fall out of races. The video below from Mercedes explains how brakes work and how setting up brake systems in certain races can be an engineering nightmare. For instance, Monaco Grand Prix is a twisty street track where speed is low and brakes are applied almost constantly. After every corner, brakes get increasingly hot. Cooling down brakes is a challenge as they are usually cooled when drivers accelerate in straights; which is, as mentioned, not what happens in Monaco.

In Baku Grand Prix, the challenge is different. Half of the track is made of long straights and the other half is a street circuit. At the end of long straights, brakes are cold and drivers run the risk of not having the best performance from brakes for the twisty part. Then, during the twisty part, there is not enough cooling for the brakes.

Logistics

A F1 calendar consists of around 21 races a year, spanning across the globe over a period of 9 months. Teams have to manage car parts, communication equipment, hospitality settings, fuel, kitchen, etc… Managing the logistics of a race, especially back-to-back races in different countries miles away from each other is a daunting challenge. This video explains very well this aspect of Formula 1

Steering wheel

Do you think you can remember how all the buttons work and make them work while driving at 180mph?

British GP – Some of The Best of F1

I have a love-hate relationship with F1. Normally, I am a crazy fan of the sport that is unpredictable, exciting, glamorous and sophisticated. To win a race, let alone a long season, a team/driver needs a perfect weekend, starting from preparation, practice to qualifying and the real race. Factors that play a significant role in a race include tires, strategy, luck, weather, drivers, pit crews and circuits. Nonetheless, F1 tends to be dominated by one or two teams before regulation changes. In the past, it was Ferrari with Schumacher, followed by McClaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. Some races are incredibly boring as there is no overtaking (I am talking about you street circuits and Australian GP)

The very last Grand Prix in UK featured some of the best F1 has to offer. The fastest pit stop ever is 1.91 seconds. In that insanely short amount of time, the pit crew lifted the car up, removed the old wheels, fitted in the new ones, lowered the car down, signaled to the driver and got out of the way. The muscle memory and the collaboration are unreal. Pit crew work can play a tremendous factor in a team’s success as you will see later on, but first enjoy the world’s record pit stop

The next highlight is the battle between two great young stars Charles LeClerc and Max Verstappen. Both of them are 21 years old or younger. The battle was enthralling and showed the talent two young men possessed. It’s incredible they fought at 180mph with the masterful control and techniques

The paradox of the NBA

NBA free agency started on Sunday night. It has been a melee with numerous deals announced after the 6pm mark. Bleacher Report claimed that the first day of the free agency saw $3bn in contracts signed.

That’s a lot of money. Players’ lives are changed over night. Career takes dramatic turns over night.

Yet, the irony in all this show of wealth is that while some players command attention, freedom and money, others may not be able to choose where to work. Grown men in the 20s or 30s don’t even get to choose where to work and live. If traded suddenly, they have to uproot their family and disrupt their spouses or kids’ lives.

That’s what I find very sad about the NBA. At least in soccer or what we call football, players have all the freedom in the world to choose where to work. If they don’t want to, their current clubs can’t force them out, unless contracts are broken and the players get all the contract value. Take Gareth Bale for instance. His manager doesn’t want him. His club doesn’t want him. His teammates don’t like him. The fans in Madrid don’t want to see him. Yet, unless he is willing to be transferred, there is nothing that Madrid can do.

Another disappointing aspect of the NBA is some hostile fans. By playing, players essentially trade their time and health for money. Injuries happen. Your body takes a toll. Continuous workouts are required. Media presence is mandated. Yet, players sometimes don’t get to choose where to play and live. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop hostile fans from throwing tantrums at players whenever they do what is in their best interest. Take Kevin Durant for instance. He did what he thought was best for him by signing with GSW. Yet, he is called soft, a snake and other vulgarities.

Money and fame do come at an expense. Costly expense.

Fan transgression and blemish on sports

Last night, an unfortunate event took place at Oracle Arena in the game between Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. The co-owner of GSW sat court side and upon contact with Kyle Lowry, the point guard of Toronto Raptors, who was trying to save a ball, laid hands on Lowry and hurled vulgar language towards the player. The culprit was suspended by the team for the rest of the series and fined by the league as well

Sports are about emotions and it’s alright to stay at home or a friend’s place and scream at the TV. However, it’s not OK to assault athletes, either physically or verbally. There is racism around Europe in soccer stadiums. Players threaten to walk out in cases like that and I think that they are justified. In basketball, fans touch and throw insults at players. Why? Players are just humans who are trying to do a job for which they are paid. There is no reason to act outside the realm of courtesy or decency.

In some cases, it gets more serious than just shoving or obscene language. A few weeks ago, Mkhitaryan, an Armenian football player at Arsenal, had to stay home to watch his teammates play in the Europa League. It is because the game took place in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, which has political conflict with Armenia. If the fans could separate the beautiful game of football from a political conflict and realize that Mkhitaryan didn’t choose where he was born, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I hope that one day, we will forever discard all the blemishes on the sports we love and just enjoy the beautiful moments that sports bring. We don’t need what the co-owner of Golden State Warriors did to be a distraction away from moments like this.

Steep decline and loss of identity at Manchester United

The season is officially over and it can’t be over soon enough for Manchester United and its fans like myself.

Terrible performance domestically and continentally

Since 2013, the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson, the team has been a complete mess. There have been 4 managers in charge: David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and the current manager – Ole Solskjaer. With regards to the Premier League, the team’s end-of-season position was 7th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 2nd and 6th from 2013 to 2018, missing Champions League on 4 occasions. This season, the gap to Manchester City, the eventual champion, is a staggering 32 points. There hasn’t been such a large gap since Premier League was founded. Yes, MU won the Europa League with Jose Mourinho, but as a three-time Champions League winner and a formerly usual competitor in the tournament, winning a second-tier cup is more of a consolation than an achievement. This year’s presence in the Quarter Finals of the Champions League is the best we have had since 2011.

Alarmingly deteriorating player quality and abysmal transfer policy

Let’s talk about the transfer policy since Sir Alex’s departure. Below is the list of all big-ticket players coming to Manchester United in the past 5 years (Source: transfermarkt)

SeasonPlayerFees (£ mil)Selling Fees  (£ mil)DifferenceEvaluation (my own opinion)
13/14Juan Mata40  Average
13/14Marouane Fellaini2911-18Poor
14/15Di Maria67.558-9.5Poor
14/15Luke Shaw34  OK
14/15Ander Herrera320-32OK
14/15Marcos Rojo18  Poor
14/15Daley Blind1614-2Poor
14/15Falcao7  Poor
15/16Martial54  OK
15/16Schneiderlin31.521-10.5Poor
15/16Depay3114.4-16.6Poor
15/16Darmian16  Poor
15/16Schweinsteiger8  Poor
16/17Pogba95  Average
16/17Mkhitaryan3831-7Poor
16/17Baily34  Poor
16/17IbrahimovicFree yet very high salary  OK
17/18Lukaku76  Average
17/18Matic40  Poor
17/18Vindelof31.5  OK
17/18Alexis Sanchez31  Poor
18/19Fred53  Poor
18/19Dalot20  Average

Most signings haven’t met expectations so far in my book. Only a handful either have or possess so much promise that I give them the benefit of the doubt. More importantly, many players don’t particularly have a lot of resell value. They are at the peak of their market value and given the outrageous inflation of player value following Neymar’s transfer, Manchester United ended up overpaying for the players by a wide margin. Among the transfers, some are particularly terrible. Take Sanchez as an example. He is no longer the player he used to be. Yet, he commands the biggest wage at the club, causing unhealthy envy from his teammates who, admittedly, would deserve his salary more than he does.

Not only did the club fail to acquire quality players, but they were also unable to offload players who don’t meet the standard any more. Take Ashley Young. He is exceedingly disappointing and weak. Yet, he is the captain of the team and features in the starting line-up on a weekly basis. His disastrous performance against Barcelona in Champions League is just one among the many horrible performances over the past two or three years.

Loss of identity

United used to be known and feared for attacking football with flair and never-give-up mentality. United of the past few years has been nowhere near that former self. No creativity. No attacking football. No inspiration. Fewer goals. Only boring defensive football. Teams don’t fear United any more. We are relegated to battling with the likes of Wolves or Everton, which beat United 4-0 a few weeks ago.

United used to promote young players from the academy. Granted, some came through the hierarchy such as Rashford, McTominay, and a bit less from Greenwood or Tahith Chong. But it’s nowhere near enough given that we produced world class players in the past such as Class 1992, or good role players such as Brown, O’Shea, Welbeck, Evans, Rafael.

Manchester United is no longer what it used to be. Worse than the lack of performance on the pitch is the loss of culture, accompanied by the decline in reputation. No great players who want to do great things and achieve results want to play for us any more. City, Liverpool, Juve, Bayern, Barca and Real are all the raves these days. We are relegated to the second-tier club in Europe. Long were the days when United were in the semi-final of Champions League for 5 straight seasons or 3 finals in 4 years from 2008 to 2011. Long were the days when the name Manchester United commanded respect and fear. What is left now is just a well-oiled marketing machine living off of its glorious past with no direction back to redemption.

Two good things about professional sports systems in America

As a big NBA fan, I have always been perplexed by the hatred towards the Golden State Warriors. The chief reason for it is that GSW has too many All Stars and that it is unfair to compete against them. I just find it hard to comprehend. If you look at football (I prefer football, but you may know it as soccer), GSW’s dominance is nowhere near the dominance that household names such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Real Madrid has enjoyed for DECADES, if not years. Real Madrid and Barcelona together have won 58 out of 87 La Liga titles. Bayern Munich won 27 out of 56 Bundesliga titles. Together, those three clubs have won 22 of 64 Champions League titles, with Real Madrid winning a record of 13 and the last 4 out of 5. The odds of these clubs not winning their domestic leagues are just slim. Betting against them is almost as good as throwing money away.

These clubs have infinite finance and resources. They have money, brand name, legacy, scouts and infrastructure to attract any footballer in the world. It’s every player’s dream to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona. Even players at some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Manchester United or Liverpool want to play for the top two clubs at one point in their career. Unfortunately, there is no cap limit in football. There are some financial restrictions that forbid clubs to be in too much debt, but given these clubs outrageous abilities to generate revenue, these rules mean little to them. At one point, Real Madrid consecutively made record transfers with Figo, Zidane, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

That’s why I really love the draft pick and salary cap enforced on American sports teams. The two policies level the playing field much more than what happens in football. Draft picks allow inferior teams a chance at future stars. Salary caps ensure that teams cannot buy their way to success. Even if teams want to stack superstars, they run a risk of a hefty tax bill unless somehow they convince some of their stars to take a pay cut. Then, it becomes a management issue, not the money issue any more. If somehow a team can convince the likes of Durant to take a pay cut to help the team succeed, how can you dislike them? If that were your team, would you think that the criticism was fair?

Around 6 or 7 years ago, GSW was nowhere near a mainstream or dominant team that they are today. They used the draft picks to get the players who form the cornerstone of their success today. Curry, Thompson and Green were drafted at 7th, 11th and 35th positions respectively. Teams passed on the chances to sign them and GSW had the foresight to swoop in and take advantage. Plus, Curry signed a ridiculously cheap deal for a star of his stature. Thompson has consistently signaled that he prioritized staying and winning over money. Durant took pay cuts to play and win championships. Cousins earned only $5 million at GSW, a deal far from what he can earn given his talent. GSW is just better at the management than other teams. So don’t hate them for it. Be glad that there are draft pick and salary cap enforcements in the league.