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The Open Error

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
17/10/2023

Not since Caesar was a lad have battling parties simply "had at it". These days, it's all terms of reference, agreed rules, guidelines and policies. Be it video referees or dispute tribunals, modern sport has more prescribed frameworks than the UN.

I blame WG Grace for starting this over-regulation. It was as recently as the late 19th century that WG, keen to remain the top dog in English cricket, wanted yet another tool to supplement his flexibility, dexterity and reflexes. Result? The cunning chap got (one assumes) his local carpenter to make him a cricket bat close to the width of a wicket. As a result if he did not like the look of an incoming ball, he could simply stand fast, safe in the knowledge the bat had the wicket covered, and thus he was safe not to move a muscle until he felt happy so to do.

Result? Much wailing and weeping from his opponents until the cricket board regulated the cricket bat. And thus was born the sporting regulatory obsession with prescriptive rules. An obsession which continues the world over as manic rule-makers continue to regulate, prescribe and generally get firmly in the way of any idea close to "having at it".

Do not get your eclectic scribe on to the hilarity of UFC being an "unregulated cage fight". If it were completely unregulated people would be arriving at the octagon with chainsaws and tactical nuclear weapons. If things were tightened a touch from this level, say nothing more than a carbon fibre knuckle-duster, then, as with the wrestlers of ancient times, they would be dipping their be-gloved hands into crushed glass to ensure each blow that fell was a grinding bloody crater for the opponent. Ouch, dear reader, that's going to hurt.

Which brings us to the problem of sporting frameworks which allow freedom of expression and engagement while maintaining safety, but not utterly killing competition.

It is only a struggle because the framework is agreed and makes it so. Not in the spirit of the game is the oft quoted phrase when folk push it a bit far and win. Cheating is what it is generally labelled when the rule keepers decree a possible rule-bending, to in fact be a rule breaking event. How open are we all to seek to deceive to obtain the win?

I used to have portraits of Michael Schumacher and Lance Armstrong in my office. Then I had models of a Ferrari F40 and a Jaguar XJ-220 on my desk. I was always fascinated to see which one people would elect to comment on.

In those early years of Michael's Ferrari domination it was interesting that the most common observation about that picture was; "Is that Schumacher? Why him? He's a cheat." Pre-drug disaster people would say of Lance; "Who is that?" And when I told them, because of the style of the portrait, they would then observe; "So why is he posing as if he were a boxer?" (He was sweaty and in a hoody pulled right down over his eyes for this particular close-up).

Because the Ferrari F40 model was bright red most people would observe; "Oh, is that a Ferrari?" And some light discussion might follow. Then, the most talked about of the four objects, the Jaguar XJ-220. It was a lovely detailed model, in a beautiful light blue. "What is that?" Was the most frequent question, and when I informed people the amusing follow-up was usually; "I didn't know Jaguar still existed."

Two men, two machines. Michael now in a humbled form, Lance now in a disgraced form. The F40 now beyond the ransom of Kings, the XJ-220 still receiving the "What is that?" treatment. Ah, the passage of time.

Michael, along with Brawn, Byrne, Todt and the entire remarkable Ferrari crew of that time, pushed the very limits of refine, test, review, repeat. He slept at the Ferrari test circuit. He would pound out lap after lap... after lap... ensuring that a perceived benefit was real and measurably better. Ferrari was open to discovering errors, and then, through relentless testing and refinement, eliminating them. At this mighty peak no one could out work, or out-think, Ferrari.

For Lance, in the region of 23 of the 26 people who shared a podium with him during his peak all failed drug tests. So, sadly, they were all on the juice. Anyone who has ever tried to ride a road bike (ok... or a trail/cross-county bike...) real hard knows that it does not matter how many happy pills one has popped; one still needs to do the route metre by metre; heart pounding, lungs burning, muscles screaming. Each of Lance's Tour victories is a testament to the ability to suffer, sleep and suffer again... for three weeks. Ouch. I've vomited after a few cycle rides through sheer exertion. It hurt. Was getting caught, or was systemic cheating, the error? Is it cheating if everyone is doing it, or a case of the rules not keeping pace with reality? All rules are open to error, either in the application, or the interpretation. All heroes are open to error. Once they attain the mighty heights of demi-god status, they have expectations multiply ten-thousand fold upon them. Open to errors on all sides, with graceless downfalls.

In the late 1990's your scribe came within a (massive) mortgage extension of buying an F40. It was no longer the cool kid on the block... reduced to just another ageing Ferrari. Pre-internet one had to actually read books and do real research to know what was worth what for both cars and Swiss watches. So as the first batch of F40's came to their ten year service, which at the time included the mandated replacement of the rubber bladder fuel tank at extreme expense, their values were at all-time lows. How low? Well I found a very nice one just outside Washington DC for a modest $90,000 US dollars. 90,000! Ah well. Was that an error of omission on my part? Or, as dear friends have counselled me since, some years later during my divorce my ex would have stripped the F40 from me and force the spoils to be shared. So I'd still not own an F40 today. Ah! A life time of errors, and recovery.

The XJ-220? It's one abiding error was moving from a planned V8 to the actual delivery of a turbo-charged V6. The fact it was briefly the fastest production car in history, and is still today a car of sweeping artistic beauty were both overshadowed by the (cost induced) move from the planned V8 to an "it's all we've got" turbo V6. Such a tragic error! It remains an under-appreciated super car.

So is the internet and easy-won expert status our finest error? Because all this information is open to all for no effort, have we rendered sweet truth worthless, because it can be openly obtained for nothing? Education hard won. Sporting victory hard won. Enlightenment hard won. The battle for the victory in each case imbues the prize with value. Sometimes value beyond measure.

So, as the FIA and Liberty Media move us further and further away from a Formula One "Open Championship" into the age of the "Prescriptive, Mandated, Standardised Championship" have we lost the value of the battle for the victory?

Does V. Max have a "25% less value added meaning" victory, or do his championships carry the same weight as those of Fangio, Clark and Hill Snr...? Or is that simply the wrong question?

Fangio was aware of error, and in a time when all around him were meeting death behind the wheel, he survived. Remarkable, and to be honoured for all time. Clark was a complete racer, and the best of his generation. Yet one tiny error saw him dead before his time. Hill survived a racing career at a time when every race was open to error, and death on a tragic scale. Only to die in a needless plane crash.

V. Max is smart, logical, obsessed, hard-working and skilled. And, as Alain Prost recently noted, appears to have banished error from his ways over these past two seasons. Prost currently views V. Max as an unstopped force. Is this an error of hubris, or an accurate statement on the capability before us?

If we are not open to the possibility of error then we will not correctly assess that which needs to be addressed and beaten. If we are obsessed with error, then we forget what it means to chance it all for the win, moving without realising it into the "play not to lose" mind-set. It might well be a divine gift to forgive. Yet it is the human ability to err, err again, and yet again, and thus move forward, that both crowns our greatest moments and highlights the remarkable ability of humans to move forward. Faith in our ability to solve it in the end. Faith on our ability to lean from set-backs. The positive growth mind-set of being open to errors as the ultimate training tool.

This season V. Max has learned from his past errors more than any other driver. Fernando is also right up there, as is Daniel. Dear Sergio is over-thinking his way from disaster to disaster, and Lance is not far behind him on a torrid spiral into despair.

Be open to error dear reader? Yes indeed, for that is the only pathway to rapid growth, and improvement. Be obsessed with eliminating all error, and prescribing everything so no one need ever feel sad, rejected, or hurt? Well that, dear reader, is the high-speed pathway direct to stagnation, and monotony.

Methinks the FIA currently has too much from menu B and not enough of menu A. They are not open to error, and as a result our current racing is anything but an open era. Yet V. Max wins regardless, as he, Newey and the team have what it takes, no matter how open to error the world is around them. Long may the human spirit make it so.

Max Noble

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 13/11/2023 10:04

"@Max, hope you received the pages"

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 20/10/2023 7:41

"@ClarkwasGod - I do not. If you are in a position to point me at the extract you quote I would be delighted. Many thanks.
"

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 20/10/2023 7:39

"@Kenji - glad it got your Friday off to the right start! Yes… as I note if there is no boundary to fight against… what is the fight? Sport is a world of artificial boundary to save us from the worse excesses of the human tendency to endless conflict… Long may Sport serve us so…
"

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4. Posted by kenji, 19/10/2023 23:35

"@Max Noble...Ah..you've done it again. That is, stir the pot with some deep and penetrating look at the 'human condition' as it applies to F1! For starters your 'new age' championship could be simply expressed as the PMS Championship! A Freudian slip perhaps introducing a a hormonal imbalance that leads to erratic [ on track ] behaviour! The need for the rule book is a foil to those among us with abnormal levels of hubris. Everyman has a price. It is not always easily determined as, for some, simple accolades are enough whereas for others it runs into $milions secreted away in the Caymans. Either way it all adds up to the same,coping with unfair advantage.

Simple errors are mostly forgiven, repeated errors are suss. White lines are the best example of this. Some drivers do and some drivers don't. Schumacher was flawed and as such his record is tainted. His choice to park at Rascasse was a transaction he was prepared to take...and ultimately failed despite being endorsed by Todt et al!. So without the rule book there'd be no Championship and we would not be having this discussion.What that ever growing tome means to us all is something we need when we explore the 'The Meaning of Life'. Thank's Max for a deep thought inducing Friday morning.


"

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5. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 19/10/2023 12:30

"@ Max - Do you have a copy of Jabby Crombac's book "Colin Chapman: The Man and His Cars"? In this, there is a telling account from Jowett, with whom Chapman had had several run-in's over legality & safety of his cars. Aside from being very surprised Chapman had specifically requested him to investigate the possible causes of the accident, he saw a totally different side to him. If you don't, I can send a copy of that extract (as I did for Seppi's accident/Rob Walker) through esteemed editor Balfe"

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 19/10/2023 7:42

"@Apexing - my thanks!

@Tyrbiter - Quite agree. Senna was a complex character. Nigel was an Olympic class whiner. Prost was more dismissive than most Frenchmen. Webber came across with a chip on both shoulders. Fernando, well “That’s Fernando!” - the list goes on and on. Because as you note… they are humans gifted mighty sporting talent by the Gods… but still human. And that’s simply wonderful! I remember Michael talking about the only crash in which he broke bones (when he slid off and broke his leg), and he said “I made a mistake.” I nearly fainted. Then he parks it on the Apex stalled during qualifying at Monaco and claims he did not make a mistake, and he did not do it deliberately… Very human…
"

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7. Posted by dejan, 18/10/2023 23:09

"I agree that V. Max seems to be error-free this season. But is this him being more mature and cleaning his driving to that extent? Or is the package of Red Bull/V Max/strategy so good and the competition not allowed to spend in order to be competitive, that he doesn't need to push to the edge of making an error and going over the edge from time to time?"

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8. Posted by Tyrbiter, 18/10/2023 14:36

"While I would agree that any of Schumacher's competitors could have lapped a circuit endlessly polishing their cars, the lack of owning Maranello/Fiorano may well have prevented such continuous and relatively cheap matching of the facilities available to Ferrari. Perhaps they should have had Enzo's foresight in creating his own test track, but such places are few and far between. I admire Michael's work ethic in doing that thankless task, but other aspects of the man were less admirable when he was in full health although it may be churlish to say that now.

However, all in all I'm always happy for there to be flawed champions, for if they were perfect then how would the rest of us ever think we could compete?"

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9. Posted by Apexing, 18/10/2023 14:33

"@Max Thanks for another enjoyable article. I do look forward to these!

@Spindoctor It's getting to the point where the rule book weighs more than the cars..."

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10. Posted by Max Noble, 18/10/2023 13:16

"@ClarkwasGod - too kind. Thank you!"

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11. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 18/10/2023 12:24

"@ Max - nothing to apologise for!!
"

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 18/10/2023 10:22

"@ClarkwasGod - glad you enjoyed. Ah! Funny how the old mind works. Because I have never considered it a driving error by Clark I did not think to add a few words to my sentence. Please accept my thinking was along the lines of “…it was an error for Clark to climb into that car on that day, as it would only serve to fail him.” I am a strong believer in the mechanical failure view (whichever it tragically was…). Apologies for not making that clear.

@Spindoctor - quite so! Boxing and the 100M sprint. Very difficult to over complicate the rules on those two. Also agree that for a major sport Soccer has reasonably simple rules… yet having served as a linesman on many an occasion during our middle son’s junior soccer career, I can assure you sideline folk can be a nasty lot! …on one particular wet and windy Winter Sunday morning (for Western Australia, think Wales in Summer…) One parent got so heated about my calls that I walk over and offered them my linesman flag while saying, “Get out your chair and you make the calls. I’m good with that.” To which they replied “F*uk no! I’d never do that sh*t! You carry on. But remember that you’re still an idiot.”

Simple happy times…!"

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13. Posted by Spindoctor, 17/10/2023 15:32

"Thought-provoking as ever. Another riff on the themes dearest to the hearts of most true fans: the nature of sport, the role of regulation & how sods law can screw it all up (OK that lst bit is me).
Your peon to the Schumacher era at Ferrari really hit the spot. For all his faults Michael Schumacher deserved every trophy & every accolade. He was the preeminent driver of his era. If the car he was given was a bit naff, he worked at jt relentlessly until it worked. All the others had that choice, but few had his application & skill in turning sow's ears into silk purses.

I suspect that the over-regulation of dport inevitably leads to its failure. The domination of football as a global sport is partially down to simplicity. 22 men or women, a ball, 2 goals, a pitch and we're away. No biting , kicking in the groin or face punching, keep on the pitch & a couple of other more arcane ones (offside spings to mind) et voila, let the game commence.
Obviously when 1 tonne cars that can exceed 200mph are involved it's a bit more complex, esssential to ensure safety, for example. However in F1 we have reached ludicrous levels of prescription far beyond those required for either safety or the fairness needed for a Sport.
"

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14. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 17/10/2023 12:57

"Another excellent one - except.....Clark's accident was put down to probably a cut tyre, found in the forensic investigation by Peter Jowett. Another suggestion was that the Metering Unit on the FVA had seized. Driver error was ruled out by his peers at the race. I suppose you could also, although stretching things a bit, point a finger at Alan Mann Racing, who had invited Clark to drive the new Ford 3L at Brands Hatch in the BOAC 6 Hours/500 the same day - that was a verbal invite, and never confirmed in writing........
But of course I am "slightly" biased......."

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