A Writerly Dilemma

After the year we’ve all had, it might come as no surprise to you that I had been struggling to feel as festive as normal. The Christmas lights and decorations have definitely improved that, though, and Mum and Dad have excelled themselves with our tree once again. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself sitting on the sofa and basking in its glow as I try to write something, be it for coursework or pleasure. I should probably place a certain amount of emphasis on ‘try’, because of late, not much new material has surfaced at all.

I’ve concluded that this is because of a constant battle, a dilemma of sorts, that goes on in my head. Every so often, I feel pressure to decide exactly what kind of writer I want to be, even though I’ve always maintained that I want to be as versatile as possible. As you’ll notice if you’ve seen the homepage of this blog, Third Time Enabled was created when I had time to kill after a Formula One qualifying session. Motorsport has always been a central part of my life, and so to some people the prospect of me going on to write about it seems only natural. It appears to be a logical step to me too, being the thing I arguably know most about.

The problem is, though, that only 50% of my brain thinks that. The other 50% worries about how well I could write about it – and beyond that, whether I actually want to at all. I’ve dabbled in motorsport reporting before, and because you’re talking about a fast-moving industry, where there’s a new story every minute, you largely have to stick to the facts, and you have to do so in a concise and easily digestible manner. Everything is black or white. I know you could say the same about any other form of journalism, but accepting that there seemingly won’t be much opportunity to spread my wings and show what I can do creatively takes a bit of getting used to.

The opinion piece, a much more subjective kind of writing, is more conducive to an inventive turn of phrase since it relies heavily on the author’s own view, but this is where another point of self-doubt arises. What if I publish something I have faith in and it transpires I have no idea what I’m talking about at all? Not doing a subject I love so much justice would be a great worry to me, as would pigeonholing myself specifically as a motorsport journalist. In addition to that, sometimes I think that I’m more comfortable just being a fan – kicking back and relaxing while I watch the Grand Prix on a Sunday afternoon. Turning it into my job could, in my opinion, be somewhat risky, and growing to even slightly resent racing doesn’t bear thinking about.

I have done my best to strike up a balance between writing about motorsport and everything else the world has to offer. This blog has a sister site, MOH Racing, founded in February last year – but as I type this now, only nine posts have been published on it. There must be some way I can overcome these lingering self-confidence issues, give equal attention to both of these blogs and any other projects, and maintain the versatility I’ve always wanted. Only time will tell – perhaps it can be a secondary New Year’s resolution for 2021.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Mason

Aussie Sunday

Today marked possibly the one day every year when a 5am wake-up call from my alarm does not bother me in the slightest. What it marks is the start of the frantic, unrelenting eight-month world tour that is the Formula One season, and within minutes I was out of bed and downstairs waiting for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix to begin. Since the end of the previous season in November, there had been plenty of speculation – as there often is – regarding how 2018 would unfold for all of the teams, but as the field lined up on the Melbourne grid the time for talk was over. Honda and the Halo would be forgotten for at least the next two hours, as only the race remained.

I can now safely say that it did not disappoint. Of course, you can never be entirely sure of what will happen during a season-opener, but as someone expecting another demonstration of Mercedes dominance from Lewis Hamilton I was pleasantly surprised to see Ferrari end the day with the upper hand, thanks to a win from Sebastian Vettel. Some may see his triumph as lucky or even controversial, since he plucked the lead from Hamilton in the pit exit during a Virtual Safety Car period triggered by maladies for effective Ferrari B-team Haas. It is not an outcome to be sniffed at, however, for if it is representative of what we can expect from the next 20 races this year, then I am very excited by the prospect of another close title battle between Ferrari and Mercedes. What’s more, it would be foolish for anyone to discount Red Bull, even if they didn’t show quite what they are capable of in Australia. Max Verstappen started the day stuck behind a fast-starting Kevin Magnussen, and ended it trying and failing to claim fifth from Fernando Alonso’s Renault-powered McLaren – his lack of pace can most likely be explained by damage his car picked up during an off-road excursion in the early laps. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo started from eighth on the grid following a three-place penalty, but spurred on by his home crowd, the man from Perth charged to within spitting distance of the podium, coming home fourth after an unsuccessful assault on Kimi Raikkonen’s scarlet machine. His more encouraging performance must surely indicate that Red Bull can once again challenge their biggest rivals in 2018, although whether they can usurp Mercedes from their throne remains to be seen.

Further back, there were a number of other noteworthy performances in a very tight midfield. The most commendable of these came from the Haas duo of Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. After Ricciardo’s penalty had been applied on Saturday, they found themselves locking out the third row of the grid and took full advantage of this as the lights went out, keeping themselves solidly in the top six. From the outset, it looked as though the American team were virtually assured of a valuable haul of points for both men, but their dream start would turn to a nightmare on lap 23 when Magnussen ground to a halt after his pit stop with a loose wheel nut. In the garage, the mechanics and engineers were visibly frustrated, but total devastation would follow just two laps later when Grosjean also retired at Turn 2 with exactly the same issue. Every team member who appeared on camera thereafter seemed genuinely inconsolable, and I struggled to think of another time when a team had been so upset following a crushing defeat such as this. It was impossible not to feel sorry for Haas, but the new VF-18 possesses a great deal of pace and they will have another opportunity to shine again next time out in Bahrain – after they’ve ensured that their pit stops run more smoothly. McLaren enter 2018 with a new papaya orange colour scheme and, as aforementioned, a new engine partner in Renault. During the Australian Grand Prix the Woking team’s new alliance paid dividends, as it easily achieved a double points finish. Alonso’s fifth place equalled – in just one race – the best result he was able to notch up in three seasons with Honda engines. It was incredibly uplifting to see such a great champion almost rejuvenated on track, knowing he can now be confident in McLaren’s ability to be consistent scorers and fighters once again. Indeed, he made the somewhat bold post-race claim that the team could now forget about lingering in the midfield and focus their sights on Red Bull instead. Perhaps nobody will really know whether McLaren can catch the Austrian giants until after a few races have passed, but surely no fan can honestly say they wouldn’t be overjoyed to see this happen after all the misery the squad have experienced in recent years. Finally, I feel as though I must give a special mention to Carlos Sainz, who finished tenth whilst battling a spraying water bottle and resulting sickness for Renault, and to veteran Swiss minnows Sauber. Marcus Ericsson was an unfortunate early retirement thanks to a loss of power steering, but his rookie partner Charles Leclerc completed his debut race in a respectable thirteenth, ahead of Lance Stroll’s Williams and Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso. In doing so – on the lead lap, too – he kept up well with the rest of the field, giving me hope that yet another team can move up from the back of the grid and into the mix against their rivals.

Those who must have wished for much better things from their afternoons include the aforementioned Williams and Toro Rosso teams. In the case of the former, it was an uneventful and disappointing drive to fourteenth for Stroll, whilst the second debutant on the 2018 grid, Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin, pulled off after only three laps with a brake failure. Toro Rosso were hampered by a blown Honda engine for Pierre Gasly – after the Japanese powerplants had performed faultlessly in pre-season testing – and a last-place finish for Hartley, who was left a lap down after an early pit stop and unable to regain lost ground. It was also a surprisingly unremarkable race for Force India; deserted by their usual pace, they left Australia without a single point for the first time since 2009.

Thankfully, we are only one event into a long season, and those affected by the misfortune that is typical of motor racing have many more chances to strike back. As I have already suggested, there are plenty of unknowns and questions to be answered as this year’s Formula One narrative takes shape, and whatever they may bring, I can’t wait to be on hand to witness the twists, turns and everything in between. Let’s go racing!

Mason

 

Art For The Square-Eyed

Whether you play them or not, there is no denying that today’s video games are more cinematic than ever before, boasting visual effects and immersive experiences worthy of Hollywood itself. I have never owned any of the major consoles (save for a Nintendo Wii), but I know the strides that are being made nowadays and they are impossible not to admire. In being so impressive, they must be behind increased sales to some extent, but in my experience, “less is more” can be just as enticing when it comes to gaming as the snazzy and highly-advanced products we are now offered on a regular basis.

When I was 8, Mum bought me a Game Boy Advance for Christmas, with Lego Star Wars accompanying it as my first-ever game. She will tell you that Louis and I fought over it like cat and dog to begin with, but when we weren’t doing that, I was busy being utterly flabbergasted by the fact that so much scenery, storyline and playability had been packed into a tiny cartridge for use in the palm of my hand. Such a feat seemed like it should be pure fiction, impossible even in the 21st Century as something that transcended the laws of physics. And yet there we were, with other more complex systems such as the Nintendo DS and PSP catching up and expanding this compacted art form.

From the outset, then, I was very impressed – but the impact those early experiences with Lego Star Wars had on me was nothing compared to when I got MotoGP for the same console shortly afterwards. Bear in mind that this is a game based on a legendary real-world motorsport series, featuring real tracks and real motorcyclists I have admired on TV, so to my younger self it was always going to be a revelation regardless of its quality. When I got it, I owned no officially-licensed racing games of any kind; I saw those as being the reserve of the PS2-owning elite, of which I would never be a member. I was therefore eager to see what this new addition could offer, hoping that it wouldn’t disappoint by comparison to the big boys.

I should make very clear that the entire MotoGP game can pretty much be summed up by the word “simplicity”. Even the hardest difficulty is easy to conquer in any mode, since braking is virtually pointless on every circuit layout and the AI are hardly stiff competition. Race weekends are much shorter than their real-life counterparts, too – one lap is allocated for qualifying with a maximum of four for the Grand Prix. But trust me when I say that I would never slag this game off; we all have flaws, after all. Indeed, its charm lay in its pick-up-and-play suitability, its excellent replay value (even to this day, as it turns out), and the aforementioned ability to take to the track against actual racing heroes. Even more prominent than these qualities, however, were its visuals, which I would still describe as nothing less than stunning for the Advance.

16 different destinations feature in the game, perfectly replicating the 2001 MotoGP season calendar, and all are rendered so beautifully that they almost resemble oil paintings. From the mountains seen in the background at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit to the deep blue sky and sea at Phillip Island in Australia, they never fail to disappoint. The same applies to the sprites representing the riders and bikes, as well as the trackside scenery – billboards feature the names of real sponsors, there are distinguishable kerbs and cones, and excited spectators even appear to cheer you on at certain corners. The fact that all of these details are included in such an uncomplicated piece of software is what makes the game stand out above all the others I own, despite its age. If you want to take a look at it for yourself, you could search for some gameplay on YouTube, but I honestly don’t believe that this will do it justice. I now play it on my DS, which offers me an even more vibrant display thanks to its brighter screen, and this in turn only cements its reputation in my mind as a piece of modern gaming art. It won’t take you long to complete if you do pick up a copy, but I honestly believe this 16 year-old game is still worth buying. As a bonus, you won’t spend as much time being antisocial with something so easy!

Mason

Mudflap Manifesto

The closest I’ve ever come to living life on the edge was probably when I saved 90% of my make-or-break A-Level coursework on a small, wonky USB stick without a lid, which I believe got lost because Dad Hoovered it up one day. The lack of a tiny plastic cap should have made the stick susceptible to dust, Dorito crumbs and other miscellaneous kinds of damage, but it miraculously made it through the entire two years of sixth form unscathed – and I still have it today. It’s been lying on a side table in my living room for a while now, and sat there largely untouched until I decided to plug it back into my laptop out of curiosity the other day.

I began to rummage through what it held, and alongside the aforementioned College materials lay some projects I probably started, but never finished, in the common room whilst I was supposed to be doing something else for a lesson. That seems to be the way in which all the best memories came about – when the teacher had left the room and we swiftly concluded that we’d “do this work later”. If I wasn’t mucking about with Will and co, however, I’d be writing something of my own. According to a file saved on my stick, I sat down one day in February 2014 to begin work on an autobiographical book that I gave the first alliterative title to pop into my head – Mudflap Manifesto, as the title of this post would suggest. It was something that would explore my oft-referenced love of motorsport and its significance in my life, over chapters that would collectively be divided into named sections. It would appear that I only got 11 pages in before becoming distracted and abandoning the project, but when I re-read what I’d written the other day, I was fairly satisfied and convinced that I might have something worth finishing at some point. And that’s pretty rare, believe me – because when it comes to writing, I often think that I am my own harshest critic.

The first section of the book was simply entitled “Guys, I’ve got a great idea”, and it opened by recounting a collision my wheelchair once had with a bench in the College quad on a rainy day. I must have felt that this was a good starting point for the book because it led to a visit to the folks in the Motor Vehicle Department, who took out their tools to bash my footplate back into shape whilst various decommissioned cars were being tinkered with nearby. As I could see them up close, I began to reflect on my lifelong passion for them, and particularly for when they are being driven at serious speed. I asked myself questions about where its roots lay, and what my feelings and standout memories are in relation to it, and I ultimately decided that the best way to express the answers would be in prose on a page. So I began with this anecdote, before proceeding to talk about how my wheelchair has always been seen as a racier vehicle than it actually is, putting forward my pitch for a less elitist form of motorsport that anyone with a working wheelchair can enter as I then paced about memory lane and my countless racing memories. Predictably, I seemed to have done this eagerly and fondly – of course, I wouldn’t ever say that the introduction was perfect, but I’ve probably written worse!

One thing that’s even rarer than a passable piece of writing from me is me giving any kind of written attention to the countryside, which many people know has never really appealed to me. Within the context of the book, I talked about our local Somerset Stages Rally and how – from our first visit in 2004 to the present day – it has been the only thing to significantly pique my interest in our local green surroundings. Whether we locate ourselves on a crest, a hairpin bend or any other sort of corner, it’s always a spectacle and one we’re very lucky to play host to in our secluded part of the world. When it leaves town, however, the forest tracks and trees lose their sparkle completely until the following year, and so does the rest of the extensive Exmoor tundra. The hills give me nothing apart from an occasionally acceptable location in which to eat a McDonald’s as the sun goes down, or a reason to prolong a leisurely evening drive with Mum, Dad or Louis. Or do they? Upon discovering the brief beginnings of Mudflap Manifesto, which have not been added to, edited or saved since April three years ago, I’ve realised that the great outdoors appear to have given me something worthwhile to build on, and something that allows me to bring back more awesome memories and connections to the sport I love. And I owe it all, in turn, to a single moment of College quad recklessness, followed by one of many fruitful common room laziness moments. Time well spent, don’t you think?

Mason