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Youth in Sport

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

These past few weeks have been about making a comeback. None more so than in the Sports I love, Motorsport and Football.

Formula 1 has already welcomed a great back to its grid in the shape of Michael Schumacher, two years ago. Recently Formula 1 welcomed the return of Kimi Raikkonen and Pedro de la Rosa. There are still some unknowns to be answered when it comes to F1’s old boys of Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli.

In Football, Thierry Henry graces the Emirates pitch and Paul Scholes embraces the Theatre of Dreams once again, while Robbie Keane turns up at Aston Villa.

This led me to the question of – why? Why is that we are seeing these older drivers, older players and even retired sportsmen being brought back out of their cosy arm chairs. We live in age where the pinnacle of sport is pushing every boundary possible. That statement I would agree with on a physical level but on a mental level, I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg.

Recently one of England’s most loved and adored Cricketers, Freddie Flintoff, made an incredible documentary on depression in sport. Depression is often looked at in different ways but many people but it’s the person inside us that takes the most convincing. Nobody wants to appear weak or vulnerable in any situation, especially on a sporting and national scale. There is no hiding the fact that when you are a professional sportsman you take on more than just playing the sport you loved as a child. Sports men and women have to overcome a whole raft of pressures that can take its toll and can lead to depression. It is too easy to say just go talk to someone or “man up”. We have to realise that this is fundamental and these people need the support and guidance of all around them.

The youth of today are faced with increasing pressures of gazing media eyes, public interrogation and who is the latest person they are dating. No longer are the days where you can be 18 years old, play in the youth team and progress to the first team without anyone noticing. Young South American starlets are snapped up as early as 14/15 by clubs in Europe with the prospect of being “the next Lionel Messi”.

The same applies in Motorsport. Unless you have a contract when karting, it is very unlikely you are going to progress through the ranks without substantial cash investment behind you. The Motorsport industry is trying to change this philosophy and promote youngsters to just go along and enjoy the sport for what it is, fun.

Week-in, week-out, I often see young protagonists sitting on the bench for top line Football clubs waiting for their chance. Season-by-season I see the lower formula categories with teenagers that have phenomenal speed that could be utilised. So why is it we still have to revert back to the “old guard”?

Sport goes with the nature of modern life, especially in Britain. We have become more conservative and reserved, quicker to protect ourselves than consider others. We live in a culture whereby we make sure number one is looked after first than consider the consequences it may have on others. Formula 1 and Football teams are more likely to protect their investment of millions of pounds, dollars, euros than leave it to some young un-tested hot shot. The investment also needs sustainability and longevity though.

So much so that we look to those that have established themselves in the past to help a club or team to become stable rather than move forward. You are never going to move forward if you are standing still. I for one do not like this outlook. This again reflects society in being selfish and wanting everything now than building youth and consistency for that future. I would prefer to see the youth been given the chance to learn, build and develop. The only way they will learn is by playing or driving regularly so that they become familiar with their surroundings and become better athletes. The pressure put on youngsters to perform so early on is staggering when in reality they are growing as people.

I have no problem with youth being mixed with experience, but there is a difference between experience and retired. Hispania Racing Team (HRT) has recruited Pedro de la Rosa for the 2012 season. On the front it looks like they are trying to mix youth with experience. Vitaly Petrov has just led Renault for the entire year after Kubica’s accident while seeing two different drivers alongside him. Petrov was thrown in at the deep end and I am sure that a years’ experience in being a team leader would have helped him as a driver and a person. Currently Petrov has no drive for 2012 and I find that a shame considering he would be significantly more eager, keen and quicker than de la Rosa and can build with him for the future.

Buemi and Alguersuari have been dropped from Toro Rosso to be replaced by two drivers of a similar age. Both drivers are still in their very early twenties and even with three years’ experience under their belt they are still developing. Personally I would have at least kept Alguersuari who was improving race-by-race at the end of 2011.

In complete contrast we have a club like Barcelona and the driver development system of Nissan. The GT Academy that is run on Gran Turismo 5 for Playstation is an incredible route way in to Motorsport for any youngster. Just this weekend, Nissan had four GT Academy winners in a Nissan GTR at the Dubai 24 hours claiming a podium in class. That is an incredible accomplishment for those young men along with an outstanding commitment from Nissan.

La Masia, the home of young, talented football players of Football Club Barcelona. Nurtured and schooled all in one environment. Brought up with their friends around them playing the game they love and developing from childhood in to adulthood while becoming some of the world’s greatest footballers. Barcelona is a team that took Lionel Messi out of his native land, knowing how tough it would be for a young man. They invested in bringing his entire family to Catalonia along with paying for his growth hormones. Barcelona knew they found someone special and did everything they could to make him feel happy and wanted. Pep Guardiola continues to believe in his youth and just this week fielded players such as Cuenca and Sergi Roberto. The latter scoring two goals in four games and this is a youth player from Barcelona ‘B’.

We live in two very different cultures and they provide with two very different outcomes. But it teams like Barcelona and motor companies like Nissan that make me feel and believe that the sporting youth of our world is not lost and that there are people willing to give youngsters a chance. Unless youth is given a chance how do we expect them to get better and improve? University students walk about with plush degrees but cannot get a job.

Give the youth of today a chance… they may just surprise you.

Follow me on Twitter: Nico888

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A New Year

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Firstly I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year. I have left it a few weeks to write a fresh blog as the festive period takes over, naturally.

To briefly look back at 2011, it for me again was not a classic. While Red Bull were flawless it was also pleasing to see consistency for once. 2010 was more about who could lose the title the quickest rather than who could win the title. I got that same feeling from Vettel in his interviews. This championship feels more earned to him and the team. They quite simply did the best job, and that is what it really takes. Others make mistakes and you capitalise, but to truly earn it, you do the best job. Well done Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.

So what is the current state of Formula One?

2012 is shaping up well. We have new regulations, new drivers and new tracks. In terms of regulation we have raft of changes, most notably being the off throttle blow diffuser. We saw last season this made the mid part of the corner easier for the driver when they lifted off the throttle thanks to the diffuser being blown by hot exhaust gasses. Not to mention it made a horrible racket and Red Bull were the pioneers in mastering it. That has now gone and the exhausts have been placed higher up on the body work to stop this from happening. Good thing but if the young driver test is anything to go by, very ugly.

Williams Young Driver Test 2011 Exhaust

The new season welcomes back in-season testing. This is an area I do not think the FIA have got right yet. While cost cutting and cost restrictions ideally need to be implemented, it is clear to see that there is nothing like testing on the track. Pounding laps out on a track rather than a simulator will always make pay higher dividends. No matter how good a simulator is. The FIA could exploit this, turn it in to a media day or fan day at Mugello. I rather think it has been pushed under the carpet and will just pop up on the day. Not to mention we are down to only three pre-season tests with no sign off a fourth being added. Do Mercedes really want to run the risk of missing the first test? I think a grey matter still looms over this one.

A re-profiling of the front nose has been introduced on safety grounds. We move from the high noses of 62.5 centimetres (24.6 in) to 55 centimetres (22 in). I doubt we will see a reshape of the nose in terms of a ’98 McLaren but it will be lower and hopefully more aesthetically pleasing. I for one was not a fan of the 2011 noses.

A regulation that has been re-introduced is that of lapped cars being allowed to pass the safety car under full course caution (American term but applies well). I have seen a lot written on this one regarding the time it would take. Seeing as Formula 1 cars are the quickest racing cars in the world, even under yellow flag conditions I doubt it would take a significant amount of time to let cars re-join the back of the queue. Besides, I would rather see first against second at a restart rather than waiting for the second car to lap the already lapped traffic. Logic has played out here and it is a good regulation to be brought back.

Race times have been increased to four hours if a Red Flag situation occurs. Standard two hours if not. This is down to the longest race in history at the Canadian Grand Prix last year (Hats off to those that stayed in the grandstands). Logic again played out here while most do not take the original two hours anyway, it creates flexibility.

Back in December, Red Bull Racing, Ferrari and Sauber exited FOTA, the Formula One Teams Association, following prolonged debate over the implementation of the controversial Resource Restriction Agreement. This is an on-going battle between the teams to try and come to a compromise on what can and cannot be used, along with the personnel and the amount of personnel that can be used. All parties are trying to reach a common ground on how to cost cut. There are further complexities within, but on the front of it is that a balance is required. While FOTA try to thrash it out, Red Bull and Ferrari are sitting back getting on with testing. I suspect when something viable is put forwards, all teams will return to FOTA before the start of the season.

Circuit of the Americas

Formula 1 welcomes the return of an American Grand Prix in 2012… allegedly. The situation surrounding the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas is still murky and unknown. It seems the land has been paid for but the promoter had not been and work ground to halt. Prior to Christmas a deal came to fruition and work restarted. Question is now is if it was too late and if the track will be built in time. There is uncertainty surrounding the Bahrain Grand Prix also. I am going to write a blog on this at a later date.

Unfortunately the Formula 1 fraternity has lost the Turkish Grand Prix. It was not overly popular circuit to go as a spectator and a new contract compromise could not be reached. I think F1 has lost a great track. If you could pick the Istanbul track up and put it in a denser populated F1 spectator country, then it would a huge success. While it may be a “Tilke-drome” it has to be one of his best creations. We lose the magnificent triple apex turn eight. I would welcome the track back with open arms.

Fresh uncertainty surrounds the European Grand Prix in Valencia and the Korean Grand Prix in Yeongam. These venues I can find more understandable if they were lost. Valencia is a wonderful idea, racing around the port of the America’s Cup but it is an awful track. I do not want to sound too harsh but the Valencia street track really is woeful and puts on a very poor spectacle, unlike Turkey. It would not surprise me if this was lost from 2013 onwards. Korea could be great, but they have done everything backwards. Korea has built a very technical track in the middle of a shipping port with no community around it. In contrast they are trying to build a city around the circuit to help promote the region. That to me does not work. To promote and create a race you need it near the major amenities, an airport being the major one. The freight of Formula One is not exactly light and the travel down to the track is a long one. Even journalists complain about the distance from Seoul, and that is on a bullet train.

There have been a few changes already throughout the winter and I expect many more to come. The drivers market is yet to fully play out with HRT and Williams yet to announce their second drivers. So as we leave the cold, dark, depths of winter we are met with the ideas of spring and the anticipation of an enthralling season.

Happy 2012.

Follow me on Twitter: Nico888