Monday, December 30, 2013

Fondest Wishes for Critically Injured Michael Schumacher

Photo credit: Mercedes AMG

Throughout Sunday, I like many other Formula 1 racing fans have been paying close attention to the news. Once I heard the report of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael Schumacher suffering a head injury from a falling while skiing in France, I've been wishing for the best news. Regrettably, the news has not been so positive as the 44-year-old is comatose in critical condition.

Spending 19 seasons on the most prestigious open wheel racing series on the globe, many of us know him as the athlete who became a modern legend behind the wheel. Battling for every one of his 91 victories in 308 races, Schumacher is now, according to reports, fighting for his life at a hospital in Grenoble. At this time, Michael Schumacher has undergone at least one neurosurgery. Doctors now say they "cannot predict the future" of the former Formula 1 driver.

I mostly remain hopeful Michael Schumacher will possess the aggressive fight and peak human skill is demonstrated so many times in Formula 1 competition. A daring driver will once took out Damon Hill in order to secure his first Formula 1 title in 1994, one of my favourite performances illustrating Schumacher's tenacity occurred at the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix. As rain dampened he Spa-Francorchamp circuit, Michael Schumacher piloting his Benetton-Renault defied set opinions to stop for wet weather tires immediately. Remaining competitive in pace on a wet track with slick tires, Schumacher won that race in way few others would have succeeded.

Michael Schumacher's heart has been one of a champion. I wish for some positive development for him and his family. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ferrari Gives Felipe Massa Powerful Send-off

Photo source: Ferrari North America

Since progressing to Formula 1 in 2002, Felipe Massa had been propelled by the engine power of a single auto company. Ferrari engines has powered Massa in all of his 193 Formula 1 races either through the factory Ferrari team or as part of Sauber (Ferrari powerplants were rebranded PETRONAS after the Sauber team's main sponsor at the time). In total, 11 grand prix victories, 15 pole positions and 816 career points were earned with the Massa/Ferrari pairing. For 2014, Felipe Massa will be driving a Mercedes-Benz powered Williams F1 Team vehicle ending a long, single chapter. Before leaving the Scuderia Ferrari team that he test drove for in 2002 and race with from 2006 to 2013, the Brazilian driver receives a special farewell from his soon former colleagues.

In a Christmas lunch in his honour at Maranello, Felipe Massa was given a classy reception bidding thanks to his time with the Ferrari team. Teammate Fernando Alonso, Team Principal Stefano Domenicali and Ferrari's Chairman and President Luca Cordero di Montezemelo participated on the farewell to Massa. Felipe Massa's final time spent with his 2013 team was an emotional one for the Brazilian. Recounting his time with Scuderia Ferrari, Massa stated, “Each one of you has always given me so much support, especially in the most difficult moments and I will never forget what Ferrari did for me when I had my accident in 2009. It’s in these circumstances that one understands what it means to be really loved and the atmosphere at Ferrari and the unique feeling of being part of the family is something I will miss a lot.”

As a going-away present, Ferrari presented Felipe Massa with a type 56 race engine used in the F2008 race car during the 2008 season. This particular Ferrari V-8 engine carries a great amount of significance to Massa's Formula 1 career. Winning six races with the Ferrari F2008, Felipe Massa lost the Formula 1 World Drivers' Championship title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton. Massa leaves Ferrari is a memento to great times and memories of mutual accomplishments as he prepares to face-off against his former mates as a competitor with Williams in 2014.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meeting Mario: My Autograph from an Andretti

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Have you ever wondered what is the allure of the autograph? Ultimately, why is it that someone writing their name is considered a valuable commodity? If I would have to make a guess, some point in time (prior to camera phones or even the small point and shoot digital cameras) the celebrity signature was created so fans could have a constant acknowledgement for once being in the presence of a figure. That thought ran through my mind as I waited in line to meet Mario Andretti on a Thursday this past June.

I can't believe so much time had past since that encounter very close to my home in Canada. My Thursday trip to a Firestone Tire center started when my mother showed me the ad from a local newspaper. I do have a terrific mother. It was only a matter of dealing with the anticipation of that possible moment in the future. While I've had the privilege of interacting with several motorsport personalities in my capacity as an ever-learning auto racing journalist, my chance for meeting some closely face-to-face is rare. A moment that would stun many fans, my interaction involved that of an Autistic gentleman. Admittedly, I have been for better or worse living with a social condition that had for many years kept me quiet. I have grown thanks to inspiring figures. Inspiration that provided positive and negative impacts on me, I am happy to say Mario Andretti is among the most positive.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

The first in a motorsport dynasty, Mario Andretti's racing career started in secret from his parents as him and his twin brother Aldo sneaked around to race an old Hudson. Working hard to earn his way into midget racing, Andretti's eventual rise to the top level of open wheel racing was early chapters in a book of a legend. While most of Mario Andretti's greatest triumphs came before my time, the 1967 Daytona 500, the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and the 1978 Formula 1 World Championship predate my eventual presence on this planet. He was absorbed by motorsport magic and became a wizard who actively placed others under the spell behind racing fast cars.

A rather dark June morning with risk of rain showers, the scenery for meeting with a former Formula 1 and IndyCar superstar was my no means dampened by a little weather. A good crowd managed to rush out for the autograph signing. Being Thursday and a school day, the crowd was understandably older skewing than would be found at a Justin Bieber concert. The dedicated fans provided a visually stunning presentation to both Mario Andretti's legacy and the ones who appreciate an individual who chased a dream. The arrival of Andretti in a small Canadian city was something very special.

Each person inserting themselves orderly into the autograph line brought with them their own personal memories and mementos relating to Mario Andretti. Photographs of Andretti's Formula 1 car, remote controlled car, and T-Shirts provided by the Firestone were all items signed by the retired car race driver. One person ahead of me brought a vintage cardboard IndyCar display that was clearly from the mid 1980s. In my case, I brought a computer CD-ROM version of EA Sports' Andretti Racing that was my first CD computer game. Unlike his sadly departed former team owner Paul Newman who scarcely signed autographs, Mario Andretti possesses a very free writing hand.

Arriving early, I only had to wait about 15 minutes to meet Mario Andretti in person. Chatter along fellow fans reflected an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group. Time quick passed as I succeeded in holding myself together to approach the table where the racing great sat. With me, it's always a strange sensation where I know what I want say but going completely blank when I need to release my words. I wish I could properly express the pleasure that fills me by meeting someone truly outstanding. To feel I can produce so much more eloquent words, my speech uses only the simple words I can readily expel. All I could truly say was, "It is a great honour meeting you.". The worse feeling is that I'm sometimes just saying words rather than engaging an individual. I was fortunate enough to say how his involvement in auto racing resulted in my current pursuits in writing about motorsports. He graciously signed a hero card and the CD ROM as well as allowed me to take a picture of him. Limited once again by my verbal and socialization skills, the roughly 20-second meeting was the most joyous experience of my year.

Photo credit: Chris Nagy

Since that day, as I look at the Mario Andretti autographed hero card I had received from that day. The thought of what an autograph truly means has come to mind. Is an autograph just a valuable piece of sports memorabilia that is sold to collectors? Due to Mr. Andretti's generosity with his signature, the collector market is actually rather soft on his autograph compared to other athletes. Of course, the notion of the all mighty dollar being important for an autograph is obvious hogwash when lineups of delighted fans feel nothing but pride for the signature from the famous driver.

With time passing, the allure of the autograph became clear to me. Since the signature predated taking selfies with a famous person, it was the only memento a person could possess regarding a major experience. Even if meeting was ever-so brief, the autograph's purpose is classically the preservation of a personal memory as much as it is a connection to the hand who wrote their name. The experience I was treated to at that Firestone tire service centre this past June is something not obtainable at a sport memorabilia shop or online auction.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Force India has Momentum of Perez and Hulkenberg for 2014 F1 Campaign

Photo source: Sahara Force India F1 Team

A Formula 1 organization founded in 2008, Force India was formed from ashes of a team that once belonged to Eddie Jordan and was also known as Midland F1 and Spyker F1. Struggling hard in its first season, Force India partnered with Mercedes-Benz engines in 2009 finding some success in the latter part of the season. In their sophomore year, Giancarlo Fisichella posted a runner-up finish at the Belgium Grand Prix. Though the race is regarded as a decent mid-marker organization right up to last season, Force India has still been unable to secure a coveted grand prix victory. With new car and competition rules set for 2014, Sahara Force India has decided that a completely fresh driver line-up is best for their Mercedes-Benz powered race machines.

Sahara Force India picked up one of the hottest commodities in the Formula 1 free agent market. Signing Mexican driver Sergio Perez, the Force India team has signed the former McLaren pilot and 2007 British Formula Three champion to a multi-season deal. Considered one of the next hot Formula 1 stars when he almost won the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix in a fierce battle in the wet, Perez endured a lackluster 2013 season with an under-performing McLaren Formula 1 team. In the announcement where the Mexican driver was welcomed to the Indian-owned team, Perez stated, "This is a young team with a lot of determination and they’ve produced competitive cars for the last few years. It’s all change for next season with the new regulations, but I already have a good feeling about 2014. "

Photo source: Sahara Force India F1 Team

Returning to Force India in another multi-year deal announced earlier this month, Nico Hulkenberg is another driver many would consider a potential grand prix winner in the near future. The German had been very successful in a slew of ladder series championships. Hulkenberg has even won the 2009 GP2 Series championship. Joining Formula 1 as a Williams F1 Team driver, Nico Hulkenberg accepted a position as a test driver for Force India in 2011 and was promoted to a race day competitor in 2012. Hulkenberg's best Formula 1 finish is fourth that he achieved on two occasions.

Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg share a history of productive stints at the Sauber F1 Team in recent years.