Thursday, March 29, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Five - “Homer Simpson!”

Season 6, Episode 25 AND Season 7, Episode 1
“Who Shot Mr Burns?” (Parts 1 and 2.  Yes, I’m cheating.  No, I don’t care)
First Broadcast: May 21, 1995 and September 17, 1995

Special double-length entry!

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

There’s oil in them thar hills, as Skinner and Willie strike a gusher on school grounds after the unfortunate passing of the school gerbil.  As the school plans to bring itself up to code with the income, Mr Burns starts planning to get his hands on the oil, which he eventually manages through some sneaky slant drilling.  Meanwhile Homer is annoyed at Burns’ inability to remember his name, after years of loyal service, which winds up in a violent confrontation.

Burns’ actions have a knock on effect on many of the towns’ inhabitants, with the school losing the money, Moe’s Tavern forced to close due to oil fumes, the Retirement Castle being destroyed leaving the senior citizens homeless, and Santa’s Little Helper injured.  When Burns decides to take things a step further by building a Sunblocker, plunging Springfield into eternal darkness and forcing them to pay for their lighting all day long, even Smithers has had enough and attempts to pull him back from the brink – but Burns fires him for his insolence.

A town meeting is held to discuss the situation, during which Burns confronts his many aggressors (including, but not limited to, Skinner, Barney, Moe, Homer, Bart, Tito Puente, Grampa and Smithers), but produces a gun with which to defend himself and activates the Sunblocker.  Leaving the meeting, Burns has the world at his feet – but an off-screen scuffle ends in him being shot, and he collapses onto the town sundial, critically wounded and surrounded by slack-jawed gawkers…


…Luckily, it was all a dream!  Mr Burns hasn’t been shot, and is found in the shower by Smithers alive and well.  The year is 1965, and Burns and Smithers are undercover detectives on the hot rod circuit.  Now let's burn rubber, baby!...

No, wait; THAT was the dream.  On waking to find himself a drunken wreck, Smithers turns himself in after remembering shooting an old man – though that turns out to be Jasper Beardly, shot in a bitter dispute about what the sidewalk is for.

As a bunch of hot-heads tear down the Sunblocker, crushing Shelbyville in the process, Springfield Police are making a right pig’s ear of the whole thing, up to and including releasing a would-be supervillain back into society, until Chief Wiggum has a backwards-talking dream brought on by expired cream, urging him to check Burns’ suit for DNA – which turns up evidence which matches the Simpsons.  At that moment, Burns awakens and says two words: “Homer Simpson”.

Homer is arrested but escapes when the police transport is rammed by Jasper Beardly, in a bitter dispute about what the drive-through is for, leading Smithers to put a bounty on his head.  Meanwhile it becomes clear that Burns can now say nothing but “Homer Simpson”, throwing the accusation into doubt.

Lisa puts two and two together and rushes to the hospital, pursuing Homer and pursued by an angry mob, eager to present at least 51% of Homer’s corpse to Smithers and claim the reward.  Burns snaps out of his trance and announces that the shooter was none other than…  Does this count as a spoiler after 22 years?  You know what, I’m going to err on the side of caution here just in case.  Anyway, everything goes back to normal.


"You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars, you know?"...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Smithers attempting to subdue Skinner with a stapler, from range.

Mr Burns’ moment of triumph, as he fairly dances through the town square before his comeuppance.

"Speedway Squad!  In Color", the best spin-off we never got.

Dr Colossus, we hardly knew ye:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
"I've had it up to here with these damn rickets!"


Tito Puente And His Latin Ensemble's "Senor Burns" is one of the series' musical high water marks.  But it's all based on a misunderstanding: Matt Groening suggested using Puente, of whom he is a big fan.  However, the episode's writers had never heard of him and assumed he was a singer rather than a percussionist, leading to a hasty search for a singer when this sequence was set in stone...


The story heavily showcases beloved side character Jasper Beardly, or Homer’s Dad’s Friend as TV Clangers expert Tim Worthington assures me he is actually called, is probably best known as Frostilicus, the frozen man and Moon Pie enthusiast in the Freak-E-Mart in "Lisa The Simpson".  To say he is very stuck in his ways is perhaps an understatement, and one which will doubtlessly lead to a-paddlin’.

And of course, the whole concept of the story is an obvious parody of one of the most popular and deeply penetrating televisual events of all times – Dallas’ “Who Shot J.R.?” arc.  Ewing patriarch J.R. was shot at the end of the show's third season, broadcast on 21 March 1980, with the culprit…  Does this count as a spoiler after 38 years?  You know what, I’m going to err on the side of caution here just in case...

Anyway, whoever it was, not being revealed until 21 November 1980.  The appropriately-titled episode "Who Done It?" was the highest rated television programme of all time, until the finale of M*A*S*H aired in 1983.  No wonder other shows have wanted a slice of that success!


Still to this day the only two-part story in Simpsons history (although there was more recently a single, hour-long episode, fact fans!), held up by many as the show’s crowning achievement and imbued with a level of hype almost approaching that of “Who Shot J.R.?”, this is the story that cemented The Simpsons’ status as a worldwide pop culture phenomenon.

It really helps that both parts are absolutely jammed with must-see scenes - and not just jokes either, but Burns' gradual fall into cartoonish supervillainy in part one is deftly handled, and works well to make you hate a character who, whilst definitely an antagonist in the first few seasons of the show, wasn't ever depicted as a directly threatening character, over the space of just over twenty minutes.

Critics have noted that the outcome is a bit odd and unbelievable - that's unbelievable in a universe where an evil billionaire blocked out the sun, mind - and that as such the payoff takes the shine off the build up.  It's an assessment to which I have to blow a raspberry; suspension of disbelief is key in enjoying pretty much any scripted entertainment, and for a product of this much quality, I'm more than happy to make the extra leap.

Join us next time in the blog that's going to get you...  Some ice cream at the store, since we're saving so much money on Diet Cola!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Engine Blood weekly round-up, 26 March 2018


Yes, after testing told us absolutely nothing, now a race has told us absolutely nothing, with Seb nicking a win due to strategy.  Hamilton didn't seem to get too far away from the pack, but it'll be impossible to tell where we are for the next few races.  Still: at least we've already had one unpredictable result, which is basically one more than last year;

* A Darwin Award for Haas, who have maybe three races to capitalise on being the best midfield team before McLaren and Renault catch up, but instead somehow managed to not secure the wheels to their then-fourth and fifth placed cars - beating bloody Red Bull at that stage! - which in turn caused the safety car periods that gave Vettel the win;

* Other than that, business as usual.  Williams were shameful, but of course they would be, their drivers are foetuses; a Honda engine self-destructed, and for once Alonso wasn't on the receiving end; and Carlos Sainz had a whinge for no apparent reason;

* Valtteri Bottas, we hardly knew ye?  His contract is up at the end of the year, and with Ricciardo, Ocon and Wehrlein waiting in the wings, Toto may already be handing him his coat and saying "so you'll be off, then."  We're sure Williams would happily have him back;

* And finally, off the track: noted cockwomble Lewis Hamilton recently railed against the lack of diversity in Formula One.  And you know what - he's got a bit of a point.  He is currently the only non-Caucasian Formula One driver.

We'd argue that this isn't necessarily a problem with the sport, though it is definitely a problem for the sport.  It's more of a socio-economic problem; less black and West Asian families have the kind of disposable money necessary to be able to indulge their children in karting and other low-level motorsports, giving them no chance of being able to be spotted by sponsors or young driver programmes, meaning Lewis' own path to the sport is a pipe dream for almost everyone.

What they could really do with is a benefactor - someone who is earning an obscene amount of money, who instead of spending it on, say, recording albums that will never be heard in state-of-the-art recording facilities, or appeasing regimes that have terrible human rights records, or employing a phalanx of social network experts that still can't save him from shitting the bed with a transphobic tweet, could instead sponsor and mentor children that would otherwise not have the chance through those key early stages of their career.

But where would they find one of them, eh?

And THAT'S all the blood that's fit to spill!  Great to be back, America!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 10. Stupid Mercedes. So stupid.

HISTORY: Three histories here, really - the classic Silver Arrows years that partially pre-date Formula One itself, engine supplier to first Sauber, then McLaren, and finally buying the then-world champions Brawn to turn into their own team.

Brawn, you say?  Formerly Honda, formerly BAR, formerly Tyrrell.  When Honda used the 2008 financial crash to jettison their F1 team (along with BMW and Toyota), Ross Brawn carried the team on, invented the double diffuser and took the team from last the previous year to first in 2009.

Mercedes' stint from 2010 was patchy, despite the return of Michael Schumacher, before bursting to life when they hit the ground running with the controversial new technical specs in 2014.  Quite frankly, they have dominated ever since.


From BBC Sport.
Doesn't look too different to last year's winning affair, except for some pointy detailing on the rear wing that is also carried by Ferrari, Red Bull and Sauber.  If it works, expect all the other teams to be rocking them by Azerbaijan.


44. Lewis HAMILTON (GB)
77. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN)

Where do we start with Lewis?  Equally fast and frustrating, scintillating and smug, rapid and repugnant, pacey and punchable.  He doesn't like it up 'im, and he'll fall to bits if threatened by someone in an equal machine, especially a teammate, but when the muse moves him and he's in the best car, he's off into the distance.

Between his posturing, his social media idiocy (don't mention the transphobia!), his R 'n' B album, his playing of the race card and his constant references to Ayrton Senna, he is the Hollywood Hogan of F1 - dominant, devious and unshakeable in his belief that he's bigger than the sport.  We'll never say he's not good.  Just that we really, really don't like him.

Bottas, on the other hand...  He's Rubens Barrichello, version 3.  After Hamilton's dummy hit the floor when Rosberg smartly pipped him to the 2016 title, then (in a spectacularly smug move) retired from Formula One to avoid getting soundly decked by Hamilton and Vettel the next year, Bottas moved to Mercedes from Williams.

His job is to come second, unless Hamilton is out.  That seems very unambitious for a Finnish driver, and atypical of the usual "all or nothing" mindset of his countrymen in motorsport.

LAST YEAR: 1st in Constructors' Championship, 668 points.

44. Lewis HAMILTON (GB) - 1st, 363 points, best finish: 1st (China, Spain, Canada, Britain, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan, America).
77. Valtteri BOTTAS (FIN) - 3rd, 205 points, best finish: 1st (Russia, Austria, Abu Dhabi).

Hamilton's fourth world title was based on an extremely good run just after the halfway point of the season, at the Asian circuits that many (rightly) believed would better suit Ferrari, and at which Ferrari had a terrible run of luck and accidents.

Still, you've got to be in it to win it, and in it he most certainly was, especially after an early-season wobble when he thought Bottas might be another title contender; something that, in hindsight, he really, really wasn't.  Any hope of extending his Mercedes career must be based on a real year of contendership this year - or Ricciardo would seem to be nailed on for the seat.

PROSPECTS: Aw man, they're going to win again, aren't they?  Unless Hamilton literally CAN'T win by mid-season, and decides to retire from the sport (which, to be fair, is a possibility - if he's not 100% involved, he's 0% involved), and Bottas out-Raikkonens Raikkonen as a wingman, they've got to be the odds-on favourites.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 9. Best boys

HISTORY: The only team on the grid that can draw a legitimate line all the way back to the genesis of the Formula One World Championship way back in 1950, Scuderia Ferrari hold every conceivable record worth having - most wins by constructor, most constructors' and drivers' championships, most consecutive championships - and every single successful driver in Formula One either drove for, or wishes he drove for, the red team.

In short: these are the daddies of F1.

And the greatest Ferrari driver of them all?  Some say Alberto Ascari or Gilles Villeneuve, both gone before their prime.  Some say Nigel Mansell - those people are invariably British, and very, very wrong.  For it was the legendary Michael Schumacher, the greatest ever to drive in anger; five of his record seven world championships came during a crushing reign with Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, when all was swept before them.

And since then?  A fallow period.  Worse came in the eighties and nineties though, and with a combination of pedigree, budget, two of the very best drivers in the game and the bit between their teeth, no-one is ever willing to count them out.


From Ferrari, accessed via BBC Sport.
Other than looking a bit like a Ferrari-branded flip flop (cheers, Rich) thanks to the halo, this is a good-looking piece of machinery - and less white than recent years, which pleases us.  Ferrari should always be as red as possible, sponsorship aside.


5. Sebastian VETTEL (GER)

After a stellar start in the Red Bull young driver programme that saw him win a race in a Toro Rosso, Vettel was always likely to take a WDC at some stage.  I don't think anyone was expecting four in a row, including two tricky down-to-the-wire jobs in 2010 and 2012.

His shuntiness (definitely a word) as a youngster was undeniable, but as he's matured, he's largely silenced the doubts of all but the very nay-est of naysayers, showing he can race, overtake, (largely) keep his cool under pressure - well, he's better at that than Hamilton and Verstappen, anyway - and you'd have to think his marriage to Ferrari will push him up to Fangio's long-standing record.  Mind you, we said that about Alonso...

Surely this is Kimi Raikkonen's last year.  The two get on very well, for all Kimi's bluster he's quite happy to play rear gunner at this stage, and Ferrari will be keen for Vettel to get a title under his belt before any driver upheaval, but he's simply not delivered to the extent that you'd expect either a former world champion, or a younger, hungrier driver to reach.

Who next, though?  Verstappen is much fancied, but we think he'll stay at Red Bull. It's too early for Leclerc, sight unseen.  Could we see them revive their interest in Hulkenberg or Perez?  These are questions for the silly season, around August time.

LAST YEAR: 2nd in Constructors' Championship, 522 points.

5. Sebastian VETTEL (GER) - 2nd, 317 points, best finish: 1st (Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, Hungary, Brazil).
7. Kimi RAIKKONEN (FIN) - 4th, 205 points, best finish: 2nd.

Looking at the gap, you wouldn't believe these guys were in with a shot at both titles until past the halfway point of the season, but that's F1 for you.  Could a more motivated second driver have taken more points from Mercedes, particularly a shaky Bottas?  That's one for speculation only.

PROSPECTS: You never want to count them out, but a combination of Red Bull snapping at their heels, Raikkonen running out of steam and the post-Schumacher requisite multiple changes in operational staff could make this a muddled campaign.  Still favourites for second at least.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

22 Short Pieces About Springfield: Number Six - "Eine minute, eine minute! Ach! Das Wagen-phone ist ein nuisancephone!"

Season 6, Episode 16
“Bart vs. Australia”
First Broadcast: February 19, 1995

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.

Bart becomes fascinated with the difference between water drainage above and below the Equator…  My God, how did I manage to make that sound so boring?...  Which leads to him making a reverse charge telephone call to a boy in Australia.  When the boy’s father discovers the outrageous bill of 900 dollary-doos, he takes it all the way to Prime Minister Andy, who takes decisive action.

After ruling out prison, against Homer’s better judgement, the United States Government agree to send Bart to Australia to publically apologise.  The family experience “Australian culture” until the apology, after which it is revealed that Bart is also sentenced to the highest possible punishment for his crime: a “booting”, which is literally a kick up the arse with from a man with a giant boot.

The Simpsons flee, and the US Government successfully argues Bart’s punishment down to…  A booting.  Bart seems ready to take his medicine, but instead treats his tormentors to a patriotic mooning, forcing America to withdraw its diplomatic presence from Australia as quickly as humanly possible - but as the family leave by helicopter, and witness the rise of an invasive swarm of chazwozzas, they are blind to the threat clinging to the underside of the chopper...


Everything Australia-related, from the rise of the chazwozza...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
To Prime Minister Andy...

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
And a great subversion of one of "Crocodile Dundee's most iconic scenes:

Courtesy 20th Century Fox, via Frinkiac.
Bart's Southern Hemisphere phone montage, including Hitler in Argentina and the literal fall of a South America president.

The US-Australia negotiation after Bart's escape: "so we're in agreement: she won't be allowed near the phone again."


Er...  Again, we're a bit stuck here, though some of the incidental stings reference "Waltzing Matilda".  So let's go for the none-more-Australian offering of Men At Work with "Down Under"!


The Simpsons Are Going To…  (shudder)

Yes, those five little words that struck fear into the heart of every Simpsons fan, as it heralded an always-random travel episode, usually straddling the line of racism with embarrassing clumsiness.  We've already touched on "The Regina Monologues" - one of the times The Simpsons went to the UK, along with a future trip in "Lisa's Wedding" - so let's look at a few others, why not?

First, the less good.  "Simpson Safari" took the family to Tanzania for some slightly patronising depictions of Africa, though their riffing on Jane Goodall produced the surprising killer line "...So: I notice your house smells of faeces!" from Homer.  "In The Name Of The Grandfather" saw them buying a pub in Ireland, and the writers putting together a range of NI and ROI landmarks with seeming disregard for their actual location.

And no round up of unfortunate trips would be complete without "Blame It On Lisa", in which Brazilian culture was somewhat jumbled up with other vaguely South American ephemera.  The tourist board decided to sue Fox over its broadcast, although found that parody is protected under the First Amendment.  Still, bad blood there.  So of course they went back in a later episode.

So, which ones are good?  Well...  To be fair, aside from their American travels, The Simpsons are usually on shaky ground.  Thirty minutes is not long enough to build a picture of an entire alien culture, so there will be unfortunate lapses into stereotype, for shorthand if nothing else.  So let's just say "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" gets extra points for having Godzilla in and proceed to the end...


...Because this is easily, EASILY the best “The Simpsons Are Going To…” episode, probably helped by being amongst the very first (as we conveniently forget the execrable “Crepes Of Wrath” from Season One, in which Bart goes to France and clearly leaves the jokes in America), this is proper laugh-a-minute stuff.

Most heartening of all though is Australia’s reaction to the episode, and the show itself.  After a public outcry at the time, the county eventually took its roasting in fine spirits, leading to some of the biggest and most vociferous clusters of fans in the world, and a petition during economically bleak times to officially change the name of the currency to the Dollary-Doo.  You didn't get that with Brazil.

This episode set a template, though we may wish it had broken its own mould, and as such carries a certain extra importance in the series' history.  But more than that it's simply a fantastic piece of comedy, with laugh after laugh at a breakneck pace, plus lovely details like the frazzled Simpsons stumbling off the plane with crinkled clothes, and is must-see TV any time it's on.

Join us next time at the blog that couldn't possibly solve this mystery.  Can...  YOU?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 8. Lucozade and yes we do make that joke every time

HISTORY: Originally an attempt to weld a mediocre energy drink to high-performance thrillseeking, Red Bull started as a motorsports sponsor (including of Sauber in Formula One) before branching out into team management, snapping up the ailing Jaguar team from a grateful Ford.

Several years of mediocrity with David Coulthard followed, before they nicked two key assets from feeder team Toro Rosso: Renault engines and a young up and comer called Sebastian Vettel.  Roll on four consecutive World Drivers' Championships in the first half of this decade.

It's not like they've been bad since - solid top three basically every year - but the rule changes for 2014 caught them trouser-free, and Vettel would soon be off to Ferrari.  Cue several years of whingeing about their underpowered Renault engine whilst making phenomenal cars from an aerodynamics perspective, helped by their master designer Adrian Newey.


From BBC Sport.
I mean, it's alright like, but their "special edition" livery that was axed even before testing was really cool and progressive, and they clearly should have gone with it.  In fact, here it is, so you can be the judge:

See?  Much better.




Australia's sweetheart, and a damn sight more personable than Mark "The Canberra Milk Kid" Webber, Ricciardo is the eternal neutral's choice.  Whether drinking a "shoey" on the podium or climbing forlornly from his car after one of his regular mechanical failures last year, it must be remembered that he looks a bit like an Easter Island head, and that's alright with us, since it's good for a cheap laugh.

Meanwhile, Verstappenmania is running wild, brother...  These writers remember being at Spa-Francorchamps back when Max was in Toro Rosso and beholding a sea of orange.  Surely a return for the Dutch Grand Prix can't be far in the future, as they're burning money until that day comes again.

With Ricciardo looking set to depart for McLaren at the end of the year, Verstappen will have the chance to carry the team on his shoulders, probably with Gasly or Hartley as his teammate - this year will be make or break in terms of him building the maturity to show he is capable of more than occasional fast laps, shunts and temper tantrums.

LAST YEAR: 3rd in Constructors' Championship, 368 points.

3. Daniel RICCIARDO (AUS) - 5th, 200 points, best finish: 1st (Azerbaijan).
33. Max VERSTAPPEN (NED) - 6th, 168 points, best finish: 1st (Malaysia, Mexico).

See, there's all the proof of Verstappen's youth you need right there - wins more races, still finishes behind his teammate in the championship.

The Red Bull was hardly bulletproof last year, and would probably have stacked up better against Ferrari had the Renault engine had a tad more poke, and they certainly caught up by the halfway point, becoming spoilers in the title fight - quite literally when Verstappen cost Vettel a near-certain victory at Singapore with a naive move off the grid.

PROSPECTS: This one's all about the engine.  It's amazing that a team can stay a solid third in the title hunt and snipe race wins from Mercedes and Ferrari with a phenomenal but underpowered car, and if Renault deliver, all bets are off.

Driver motivation will also be key, with a whining brat and a want-away being a difficult portfolio to manage - but look for their complaints to suddenly dry up if Renault deliver.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 7. Name pending

HISTORY: Rising from the ashes of plucky underdogs Jordan, via Spyker and Midland, Force India were absolute rubbish for the first year of their existence, but have since built up into a midfield dynamo that never really threatens the upper echelons, but have more than enough to keep getting by.

Bizarrely, Force India have decided in recent years to tone down the whole "India" side of things...  Yes, us neither...  So a name change is expected imminently, and perhaps even before the start of the season.  They've cited problems attracting sponsors as the main driver of said activity.

Last year, they changed their livery to bright pink at the last minute and finished high up the order, yet somehow flew under the radar without a single podium finish to their name, and were more famed for several on-track clashes between their very fighty drivers - not what any team wants to see.  Still, at least they got rid of one or both of them during the off season, eh?

...Ah.  Oh dear.


From Getty Images, accessed via BBC Sport.
Main sponsors BWT are behind the shift from Force India's traditional orange, green and white, and sometimes black, to pink and white.  So WHAT BAR are they?*

Well Jay, Force India (or whatever they decide to call themselves) are:

- Pink 'N' Whites wafers;
- Barr's American Cream Soda;
- Haribo Charmallows;
- Walkers Prawn Cocktail crisps;
- And a bonus WHAT BEER: Brewdog's ill-conceived Pink IPA!



11. Sergio PEREZ (MEX)
31. Esteban OCON (FRA)

Perez is the Icarus of Formula One; he flew too high too fast, and has plummeted since.  Nailed on for a Ferrari drive down the road after a great couple of seasons for Sauber, he jumped into McLaren instead as a replacement for Hamilton in a season where McLaren had a dip in form.

And what have we repeatedly learned about what McLaren do when that happens?  Replaced by Magnusson (who'd suffer the same fate), he used Mercedes connections to get in at Force India, where he rebuilt his reputation nicely - until last year.

For that was the year Esteban Ocon appeared and decided to take the old advice about first having to beat your teammate very literally, leading to a series of embarrassing on-track incidents between the two.  Ocon looks to be the real deal, or something very close to it, and with Perez in danger of looking washed up at a shockingly young age  (another sad trope we've been quoting this year), sparks will no doubt continue to fly.

LAST YEAR: 4th in Constructors' Championship, 187 points.

11. Sergio PEREZ (MEX) - 7th, 100 points, best finish: 4th.
31. Esteban OCON (FRA) - 8th, 87 points, best finish: 5th.

Despite said sparks, the team finished an impressive fourth by over 100 points from Williams last year, albeit with the dearth of podiums noted above.  It could all have been so much more impressive though, as both drivers could easily have challenged for the win in Azerbaijan had they not - you guessed it - collided and ruined each others' race.

PROSPECTS: Testing looks a bit spotty and they've got two drivers who grind each others' gears...  This could be anywhere from a funny disaster, to a sad disaster, to a disappointing mid-table finish.  We'll stick our necks out though and say that with Haas, McLaren and possibly Toro Rosso in the ascendancy, they won't hit the giddy highs of last year.

(* = thanks in advance to OSW Review for not suing us over this affectionate homage)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 6. Once-proud garagistas scrambling for coins

HISTORY: Founded by Frank Williams, we have the last of the garagistas right here - a team purely for racing, without major manufacturer links or a road car division, and for that at least they should be saluted.

They've had a ton of success over the years, from early title wins with Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg, to a superb 1986-87 relationship with Honda that brought Piquet his third title, and the essentially self-driving model that brought huge  success for Mansell and Prost in the early nineties.  Sadly the stripping of gadgets hurt them more than most, and the death of Ayrton Senna in a Williams in 1994 really hit the team hard.

They've been there or thereabouts more often than not since, a flirtation with Toyota engines aside, but are a fair way removed from their last win (with Pastor Maldonado - remember that jerk?) and could do with a bit of a boost.  Let's hope they haven't hired any shit young pay drivers, eh?

...Ah.  Oh dear.


From Press Association, accessed via BBC Sport.
The Williams Martini Racing livery is classy, nostalgic, iconic, clean, and aspirational, and these writers have often considered jumping in for some merch after a few on-track "refreshments".  If it wasn't for their awful, awful driver choices, this might have been the year we shelled out £80 for a shirt.


18. Lance STROLL (CAN)
35. Sergey SIROTKIN (RUS)

What.  The.  Actual.  Fuck.

"The Heartbreaker" Lance Stroll (as he was dubbed during the overwrought theatrics of the US Grand Prix pre-show) is an undeserving pay driver who somehow eked out a podium in his first season last year - as did Nelson Piquet Jnr, lest we forget - during the engine bloodbath that was Azerbaijan.  His daddy enlivens Williams' bank account to the reported tune of £20m per season, so we all know why he's there, and it's an absolute disgrace.

Sirotkin is a multiple-time F1 nearly man, including a stint as Sauber's third driver, during which everyone complained he was too young and green to do the job.  Frankly he's still too young and green to do the job, even in comparison to his child of a teammate.  Again though, money talks - and both drivers do at least have some, shall we say, "motivation" in the form of a highly-focused Robert Kubica as third driver, hoping for a fairytale comeback from a rally accident that left him with a severed hand.

LAST YEAR: 5th in Constructors' Championship, 83 points.

19. Felipe MASSA (BRZ) - 11th, 43 points, best finish: 6th.
18. Lance STROLL (CAN) - 12th, 40 points, best finish: 3rd.
40. Paul DI RESTA (GB) - Not classified.

So goodbye again, Felipe, and thanks for the memories, again.  So nearly the 2008 world champion, a man that went toe-to-toe with the top names of his generation and came out on top a surprising amount of times, and a man who (ahem) was technically already retired, but got pressed back into service when Bottas left for Mercedes unexpectedly.

Massa being ill also brought another returnee - Paul Di Resta, perhas F1's most boring talker.  Luckily his stay has not been extended or every pre-race interview section would be rendered snooze-worthy.  In the meantime, Stroll lucked into the only podium of the whole year that wasn't taken by Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull in a rare race of attrition.

PROSPECTS: We want Williams to do well, for nostalgia if nothing else - but let's be clear here, for that driver line-up alone they deserve to fail, though it's admittedly sad that a great old team with a good title sponsor needs to stoop this low for finance.

Unless we see a mid-season substitution that brings in Kubica, Kyvat or even Di Resta, they will either be moribund or intensely annoying.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 5. Currently Renault

HISTORY: Ah, the Enstone Team!  Right, strap in, there's a lot to cover here: starting out in 1981 as Toleman, they were eventually rebranded as Benetton, with the fashion chain getting a taste for racing through their prior sponsorship of Tyrrell and Alfa Romeo.

Having won two titles with Michael Schumacher in 1994 and 1995, a fallow decade followed, before Renault bought the team out and two more titles followed for Alonso.  Renault eventually sold the team to Genii Capital, who acquired the Lotus name for the princely sum of a bag of balloons and a pencil - but once the global financial whoopsie was a distant memory, Renault came knocking again, and here we are.

When you consider the changes this team has been through, and all the legendary drivers they've had through the door - Schumacher, Senna, Piquet, Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Berger, Patrese and Boutsen, to name but a few - your head spins.  They've made lemonade from lemons more times than is strictly plausible, and are always potentially a couple of years away from another title run.


From Press Association, accessed via BBC Sport.
Oh man, that's a cool colour scheme - especially after a couple of years of pure banana yellow, which to be completely fair, is actually Renault's traditional racing colour.

They have counselled, however, that this is a livery for testing, and the race version may be different.  We say they'd be chumps to change from this aggressive look, but time will tell.


55. Carlos SAINZ (ESP)

Nico is a nearly man for many top drives, being at various stages on Mercedes and Ferrari's radars, and has bounced around the midfield, arguably outperfoming the car everywhere he goes - Williams, Sauber and Force India.

A journeyman racer at the highest level, which you don't really get these days, one unfortunately has to think that barring a rash of unexpected retirements (Hamilton and Raikkonen being most likely), sticking with the Renault works team and hoping they come into the ascendency is about his best chance at some long-overdue glory.

Carlos Sainz is overrated, in these writers' humble opinions.  We've seen them come and we've seen them go, and this fellow has all the hallmarks of mediocrity - petulance, midfield results, habitually outperformed by (non-Kyvat) teammates, famous dad.  We may stand corrected eventually, and joining Renault mid-season was certainly a smart career move for him, coming out of a crowded Red Bull driver programme.  As for who he replaced...

LAST YEAR: 6th in Constructors' Championship, 57 points.

27. Nico HULKENBERG (GER) - 10th, 43 points, best finish: 6th.
55. Carlos SAINZ (ESP) - 9th, 54 points, best finish: 4th (best finish for Renault: 7th).
30. Jolyon PALMER (GB) - 17th, 5 points, best finish: 8th.

...Christ, Jolyon Palmer was rubbish, wasn't he?  Really not Formula One material - petulance, midfield results, habitually outperformed by teammates, famous dad... Hang on a minute...

That he could be replaced by a talent as common-or-garden as Sainz mid-season and immediately be eclipsed is testament to the failure of his career.  I'm guessing he won't be back or missed.  Other than that it was a season for occasional Hulkenberg heroics - story of the latter's career so far, really.

Eyebrows were raised when Renault-powered Toro Rosso suddenly went backwards and were pipped for sixth in the championship by the works team, but we're "sure" "nothing" "untoward" happened there.

PROSPECTS: Could look a bit stupid if outpaced by McLaren on the same engine - mind you, Red Bull are well ahead of them so perhaps not.  If reliability remains metronomic, they could easily be looking at sixth, and use that as a jumping-off point for future development.

Given their history, Renault will not want to be away from the sharp end for long, and the sport benefits from their participation - so let's hope they at least get what they want.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Engine Blood Ranks The 2018 Contenders: 4. Red Bull Babies

HISTORY: Would you believe these guys used to be Minardi, the plucky underdogs of F1, kept alive long past the toll of their bell by Australian money-pit Paul Stoddart and, rumour has it, some hush-hush payments from Bernie Ecclestone, desperate to keep at least 20 cars on the grid in the wake of Prost and Arrows' collapses.

Bought out by Red Bull and used as a young driver feeder team, plus the recipients of their cast-off engine contracts, their highlight came when Sebastian Vettel took the team's first and only win, and was promptly snapped up by Red Bull to the surprise of absolutely nobody.  A frustrating few years have followed, with their best drivers getting plucked from them on a regular basis (Vettel, Ricciardo, Verstappen, not Sainz who isn't as good as he thinks he is), making consolidation difficult.

An interesting move has occurred, though - Toro Rosso have Honda engines this season, after the Japanese outfit endured three horrendous years with McLaren.  McLaren couldn't wait to get rid of the power units that not even Sauber wanted, but testing has shown promise, and the F1 world awaits this team's next moves with no little anticipation.


From Toro Rosso, accessed via BBC Sport.
We do love how the bright electric blue and the red detailing allows these to be picked out more easily from the Red Bulls, with their admittedly cooler flat matt midnight blue.  Makes a change from seasons past when you couldn't tell them apart.

Not much about it is telling us this is Honda-powered, though.  One wonders whether that will change as time goes on, or whether they're being deliberately kept off the branding in case that engine contract mysteriously gets swapped to Red Bull...


10. Pierre GASLY (FRA)
28. Brendon HARTLEY (NZ)

All change (sort of - see below) for Toro Rosso this year, as they welcome in two guys who had a rocky road to F1 and that we're happy to welcome into the fold - and one of whom might be hitting the big leagues early if Ricciardo goes to Mercedes at the end of the season...

Gasly had the more traditional route, up through the lower formulae, including a single race weekend in Formula E and winning the 2016 GP2 series.  He also came second in the Super Formula championship last year whilst balancing that with being Red Bull's test driver and a few F1 races for Toro Rosso.  We can only hope he evolves into Haunter and then Gengar in short order.  #pokemonfunnies

One would have thought Hartley would have missed out of F1 altogether, as he had been so close previously with no cigar.  A Le Mans winner and two-time World Endurance Champion, which is traditionally what you do AFTER F1, he'd been dropped by Red Bull back in 2010 in favour of Jean-Eric Vergne, who did eventually get a Toro Rosso drive but now dwells in Formula E, where he is winning because of course he would, he's a Formula One driver.

Hartley kept his hand in with simulator runs and young driver tests for Mercedes, and when Gasly had Super Formula commitments on the US Grand Prix weekend last year, Hartley was the surprise call-up.  It's always nice to see a driver take a less traditional route to the big time, so here's hoping he can live up to his early promise.

LAST YEAR: 7th in Constructors' Championship, 53 points.

55. Carlos SAINZ (ESP) - 9th, 54 points, best finish: 4th.
26. Daniil KYVAT (RUS) - 19th, 5 points, best finish: 9th.
10. Pierre GASLY (FRA) - 21st, 0 points, best finish: 12th.
28. Brendon HARTLEY (NZ) - 23rd, 0 points, best finish: 13th.

Apparently Red Bull want to own all the drvers in the world...  EXCEPT Daniil Kyvat.  A Russian Grand Prix demanded a Russian driver, and Kyvat was impressive enough in his first season with Red Bull, beating highly-rated team mate Ricciardo.  A shunty start to his second season and he was replaced with the foetal Max Verstappen, which shows how ridiculously youth-focused this sport is becoming.  We will miss him, even if the team won't.

Sainz then went to Renault after an eye-catching 4th in Singapore, though we're not sure he merits a works drive.  It was something to do with the engine swap with McLaren, which shines a spotlight on the political intrigue going on behind the scenes.  By that time Toro Rosso had been outdeveloped - a common problem for this lot - and Gasly and Hartley had a largely uneventful time waiting for 2018.

PROSPECTS: They're damned if they do and damned if they don't: do well, and the Honda contract goes to Red Bull, leaving Toro Rosso to rebuild around a Renault or Ferrari engine, and quite probably without whichever of their drivers impresses the most.  Don't do well, and they're stuck with a potentially troublesome engine, possibly still playing the driver merry-go-round.  It's fair to say we don't envy their position, but it'll be fascinating to watch.