Just Say It: Ferrari Cheated

The Scuderia Ferrari are packing up after a horrendous Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps and heading dejectedly to Monza – with the prospect of as bad or worse performance next week. The official media coverage keeps talking about the mysterious downturn of performance by the team since last year. But it really is no mystery at all, they’re just not allowed to tell the truth, Ferrari were cheating.

“Bending the rules” is nothing new in Formula One and many teams have been found guilty of taking advantage of grey areas or loopholes in the rule book, like Mercedes’ DAS system. Some have flat out cheated, like BAR’s second fuel tank in 2005.

2018: Second Wind

But now let’s go back to early 2018 when things with the team from Maranello started looking a little shady. The scarlet car was very fast but errors by the team and the drivers, as well as some unreliability cost them the World Championship. For some of the teams, the SF71H was just a little too fast down the straights, getting almost a second wind on long straights when their rivals acceleration began to retard.

Mercedes and Renault, in particular, questioned whether Ferrari were staying within the permitted battery output on the hybrid power units or the fuel flow limits on the internal combustion engine. The FIA insisted that everything was legal with the dual-battery system employed by Ferrari, but bowed to pressure and installed a secondary energy flow monitoring sensor on the power unit mid-season. Strangely, the rival team’s GPS data didn’t detect that “second wind” acceleration anymore.

2019: More Speed

When preseason testing kicked off in Barcelona the teams using the Ferrari power unit showed great straight line speed – a pure engine power advantage. Though they were finishing the races behind Mercedes and at times Red Bull-Honda, Renault started to openly question the Italian engine’s performance by mid-year.

When the F1 circus reformed after the summer hiatus, the Scuderia reeled off three wins and six pole positions in a row. The little Haas-Ferrari team even claimed the fastest lap in Singapore. Once again the rival teams questioned whether both the battery output limit and the internal combustion fuel flow limit where being exceeded by Ferrari. Red Bull-Honda queried the FIA in Belgium as to the Ferrari engine’s legality.

Before the United States Grand Prix in early November the FIA issued a technical directive regarding the fuel flow sensor on power units. Suddenly the Ferrari-engined cars were way down the list in the speed traps…

Before the season ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the FIA announced it had seized an example of the Ferrari power unit for further analysis, following the finding of a fuel discrepancy on Charles Leclerc’s car. The other teams beamed in anticipation.

2020: The Deal

At the conclusion of the last day of preseason testing in February the FIA announced a settlement with Ferrari regarding its 2019 power unit. It also invoked Article IV (ii) of its Judicial and Disciplinary Rules allowing it to make a confidential agreement.

“…after thorough technical investigations, it has concluded its analysis of the operation of the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Power Unit and reached a settlement with the team. The specifics of the agreement will remain between the parties.”

Translation: We caught them cheating but we aren’t going to tell you what they did.

The seven teams not using Ferrari power units threatened legal action in an effort to have the details released. Then the F1 world was upended by COVID-19 and the issued faded away from public view, as mere survival of teams – and the sport itself – became paramount.

When the season finally got underway at the Red Bull Ring in July, Charles Leclerc qualified 7th – over a second off the pace of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas – and Sebastien Vettel didn’t make it out of Q2. Quite the difference from 2019 when Ferrari took 9 pole positions, 6 fastest race laps and 3 wins. Leclerc would take advantage of rivals misfortunes and the ensuing safety cars to finish third, which thanks to a Lewis Hamilton time penalty promoted him to second. It may prove to be the high point of his season thus far.

The Payoff

Since Liberty Media purchased Formula One it has wanted to even the playing field to improve The Show. Give the little teams more money and rein in the spending of the Big Three (Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull).

F1’s controlling document, The Concorde Agreement, gave huge “historical payments” and some veto power to Ferrari, simply for being the oldest team in the sport – courtesy of Bernie Ecclestone’s wheeling and dealing – but it expired December 2020.

It makes a lot of sense that Liberty took advantage of this “confidential agreement” to put pressure on Ferrari to accept the new rules in exchange for discretion, which the Italian team agreed to August 18th 2020.

The new agreement covers the 2021 to 2025 seasons and comes into force January 1st 2021. Don’t expect Ferrari to win a race before then.

A Sensible Way Forward For College Athletics During The Pandemic – Which They’ll NEVER Do

Clemson University quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential first overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft, tweeted this on Monday about the very real potential shutdown of college football because of the coronavirus:  

“People are at just as much, if not more [at] risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract Covid-19. Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/ their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football. Having a season also incentivize’s players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting Covid because the season/ teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions. Let’s work together to create a situation where we can play the game that all of us love. Not divide and argue. There is a way forward”.  

Lawrence is not wrong – and I don’t disagree with him. There is a way, as Lawrence says, for colleges to positively advance their mission forward for athletes that, for the moment, does not include playing sports.  

There are a vast number of college athletes that, to paraphrase Lawrence, “will be sent home to situations that are not good for them.” For a good number of students, higher learning offers a functional community and, more importantly, a structure that they can’t get when they are not on campus accomplishing something that will constructively and positively move them forward towards better lives. In the case of on-campus athletes – especially the ones in sports that create great revenue for colleges – colleges have gone to great lengths to create this façade of athletes as students.  

The term “student-athlete” is a made-up term and concept coined in 1964 by Walter Byers, the first-ever executive director of the NCAA, to counter attempts to require universities to pay wages, salaries, or workers’ compensation. In the almost 60 years since, college athletics have succeeded in this aim, making staggering amounts of money in the process. This has been the ethic behind depriving millions of college athletes since any portion of that obscene monetary haul while at the same time making the flawed claim that “you can’t put a price on the college education they are getting”.  

Well, now is the perfect time for the NCAA and big time colleges and universities to put their money where their mouth is. Colleges are in a unique position to actually begin treating and dealing with these athletes as the first half of the term.  

If sports is not really an option for these athletes for the time being, then honor their scholarships. If it truly is safer on campus for athletes, like Lawrence claims, then let them stay on campus and reap the rewards of being in a “bubble” that best protects them during this uncertain and scary time during the pandemic, with access to health protocols and medical care they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford. Let them work out and stay in the shape and condition required for their sport (health and safety protocols allowing) when it is possible to carry on.  

Until then, the operative two words for these colleges should be “student” and “scholarship”. For the time being and despite the ethic the NCAA and big time colleges have pushed for over half a century, these athletes can’t really be “athletes” right now. So emphasize that they are there on a “scholarship” – which the last time I checked meant school (you know, college’s PRIMARY mission). Emphasize their education and encourage them to take as many classes as they can (virtually or otherwise according to health and safety protocols) in the time they clearly now have, and – heaven help – work towards a degree.  

These colleges and universities with big time multi-million dollar athletics claim they care about their athletes, and that you can’t put a price on a college education. Fine. Then right now make more of a priority out of helping your “student-athletes” learn something else substantive other that football, basketball, etc…  

…Of course, you as well as I know that the member schools of the Pac-12, Big-12, Big-10, SEC, and ACC will never do this. It makes way too much sense!  

How To Be And Not To Be Part Of The Solution

By now you’ve probably heard that two country music superstar bands have altered their band names in order to excise a part of their names that honored the Confederacy. In each case, the bands had been using the offensive name for a long time and only now, in this time of social justice awakening, have they come to realize that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. How the two bands have handled this change gives insight into their real intentions though.

First we have the Dixie Chicks. They have been releasing music under that name for 30 years. Dixie, however, is a word that refers to the states that seceded from the union to form the Confederacy. One may wonder why a band made up of three women with clear liberal leanings–remember the controversy over their anti-Iraq war stance in 2003–would include a word that connotes a pro-slavery stance in their band name.  There was probably some pandering in that initial decision.  Country music’s base is in the deep South.  So honoring that base by calling themselves the Dixie Chicks may have seemed like a solid financial decision at the beginning and, more than likely, it probably never occurred to them that some might find the name offensive.

Nonetheless, it took the Dixie Chicks far too long to “get woke.”  It took the numerous protests after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman which spread to protests against Confederate monuments before they got a clue that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t a good look to have Dixie in their name.  However, once the Dixie Chicks “woke” up, they completely dropped the offending word from their name, changing the band name to simply, The Chicks.  Then they went a step further and released a new song called March March (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwBjF_VVFvE) that unquestioningly showed their support for the Black Lives Matters and other social justice movements.  So not only have they finally changed their name to remove a pro-Confederacy word, but they have reconfirmed their support for social justice causes at the risk of incurring the wrath of some of their fan base.  That is how you become part of the solution.

Then we have the case of Lady Antebellum.  They have released eight albums, two EPs, two box sets, and a Christmas album under that name since 2008.  Antebellum is a word that means the pre-Civil War South, i.e., the South in the time of slavery.  Again, one wonders why a band would choose a name that seems to glorify the pro-slavery South, but we will also chalk this up to ignorance and pandering to the Southern country music base.

Unlike The Chicks though, Lady Antebellum did not completely remove the offending word.  Instead, they shortened it to the abbreviation “A,” now calling themselves Lady A.  Doing so does not fix the problem because everyone knows what the A stands for.  Basically, Lady Antebellum is trying to look woke without taking the risk of losing some fans in doing so.  They want to avoid bad publicity arising out of their pro-slavery name while showing their actual pro-slavery fans, *nudge, nudge, wink wink*, that nothing has really changed.  Those fans know that the A still means Antebellum.

Further, apparently Lady Antebellum copyrighted the name Lady A ten years ago, just a few years after their debut album.  Why would they copyright a name that they didn’t use and, in fact, would not use for another decade?  It’s almost as if they knew how offensive their band name was and wanted to have a back-up name ready to use if things got so bad they had to change their name.  Obviously I don’t know why Lady Antebellum cynically copyrighted a name that they didn’t use, but it does not look good that they did.

What’s worse is that, in changing their name from Lady Antebellum to Lady A and in copyrighting the name Lady A so long ago, the band didn’t check to see if the name was already taken.  Up in the state of Washington, Anita White had been performing under the name Lady A for better than 30 years, first as part of a Motown group called Lady A & the Baby Blues Funk Band for 18 years, then as a solo artist under the name Lady A.  She has released four solo albums under that name since 2010 with a live album scheduled for release this year.  Anita White has built a brand around being Lady A for a long time.

After Lady Antebellum announced their name change to Lady A, music streaming services immediately began reflecting the new name.  For the original Lady A, however, this meant her fans could no longer find her music on the streaming services as the new Lady A topped out the music searches.  This led White to call out Lady Antebellum for usurping her name.  While Lady Antebellum was apologetic, they nonetheless insisted on keeping the name in settlement discussions with White, although they were willing to allow White to continue to use the name as well.  This was understandably a problem for White.  Why would she want to share a name that she had spent the better part of her adult life using and building her brand around?

When the settlement discussions inevitably broke down–there was no real way for two different artists to share a name–what Lady Antebellum did next was particularly loathsome.  They filed suit against White asking a court for a declaration that they be allowed to use the Lady A name.  Although they are not asking the court to prevent White from using the Lady A name, if they win, White’s career as Lady A will be effectively over.  There is no way she can compete with Nashville superstars, whose music will dominate the Lady A name on music streaming services.

In sum, Lady Antebellum has belatedly realized that their name is offensive to African-Americans.  So they have changed their name to a name that doesn’t completely erase its offensiveness and has stolen their new name from a long-time black blues singer.  Then, instead of apologizing about the name conflict and choosing something else, they take the original Lady A to court to legalize their name theft.  To put it more succinctly, they had a name that memorialized the theft of African-American labor and now seek to steal the labor of an African-American woman.  This is how not to be part of the solution.