The Open Error


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

Article from Pitpass (

Published: 17/10/2023
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