Monday, 22 April 2013

Save the Ring

I saw a sticker on the back of a car in Zürich this morning: "Save the Ring". I'm guessing that unlike most residents of the city, I knew what it meant. is a commendable venture, aiming to protect the world's greatest stretch of tarmac from the hands of evil businessmen and councillors.

But I can't help thinking that the campaign isn't really necessary - although it does provide a reason for ring-lovers (I hope that's not a euphemism for anything) a chance to meet up without having to spend their hard-earned €uros on laps of the track. Not that they'd mind that, it's their favourite hobby.


I love the Nürburgring, or more particularly the Nordschleife - a 22km long one-way toll road (as it's officially described) running through beautiful German countryside. I've driven round it in quite a few different cars, and the only reason I haven't scared myself silly is that I'm too much in awe of it. During the first lap I drove, I passed the scenes of two accidents. In each case, a motorcyclist had over-estimated their talent and left the road. Motorcyclists do not combine well with Armco barriers, and an ambulance is usually urgently required on the scene.

The Nürburgring is perceived as being under threat because of the huge financial debts associated with it after the "Nüro-disney" theme park that was built there, but, to be honest, I'm more concerned about Brands Hatch (especially the GP circuit) or Oulton Park. Monza even. These are the sort of circuits that suffer a real threat; wealthy residents have moved close to the tracks long after the circuit was built, and don't like the noise of racing exhausts at peak barbeque time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Political pressure ensues.

But the Nürburgring doesn't suffer from that. The Eifel forest is an empty area with only a few villages, most of whom either make their living from timber or businesses that generate revenue from people driving round the Nordschleife with great rapidity.

It makes no sense to close the Nordschleife. It is perfectly possible to run a commercial venture that covers the operating costs with income from car manufacturers, race teams and people like me, who just enjoy the opportunity to drive round corners at speeds higher than Her Majesty's Constabulary deem prudent.

The theme park will never recoup it's investment, and it's unclear whether the losers will be local taxpayers, Germans in general, or the people that fund the European Union (there may be a subtle difference between those last two but I doubt it). But nobody will decide to destroy the circuit.

At some stage, someone will decide to separate the toxic part of the business (the leisure park) from the profitable part of the business (the racetracks) and all will be well.

Not ideal perhaps, but well. There may be hikes in charges for using the Nordschleife, but that's appropriate in a commercial business aimed at providing the best return to its shareholders (which should be all businesses). A competent management will balance supply and demand and if they don't, the business will fail, and someone else will buy it and aim to maximise their investment.

In many cases, dying businesses are bought in order to strip them of valuable assets.  In this case, the main asset is a racetrack, built on land that isn't really useful for either industry or housing. So it will continue to make sense to run it as a circuit, it's just a question of determining the price that makes it viable. Obviously, users of any service like that service to be as cheap as possible, but that is determined by competition. And, as there is only one Nürburgring, there is no equivalent, no competition.So the customers will continue to pay the market price to use it.

So do we need to Save the Ring? I'd like to think that it will save itself. Just as long as we love it enough.


You may have noticed that I'm having a bash at revamping/rebuilding/resurrecting my blog.

I'm trying to get together some pieces that have been publisghed elsewhere, and have them pretty much in one place. Hopefully that won't frustrate any readers that see a five-year-old post suddenly appear in their reader. Apologies if it does.

And it'll take me a while I'm afraid. I keep reading all the stuff that I wrote ages ago, and have already forgotten...

Sunday, 21 April 2013


Two things struck me both about today’s race, and the background to it.

Firstly, DRS is currently too significant. Yes there was some great passing, but some of it was just too easy. My current theory is that DRS shouldn’t affect top speed, just allow the car behind to gain the speed it would have had if it hadn’t been running in dirty air. It can’t be impossible to develop an algorithm to allow that. I’m available if the FIA is interested.

Secondly, what’s all this nonsense about letting Bahrain be the first race again (as it was in 2010, the only year that I’ve been there)? They should be happy that the race hasn’t been cancelled either this year or last, and they don’t even fill the low capacity grandstands. So why would anyone want them to have the honour (that currently Australia rightly has) of having the first race? The reason would, of course, be money; money that will not be staying in motorsport. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Zurich - Planet Walk


Just 20 minutes by train, the S10, from Zurich main station, is the best view of the city and lake you'll find.


The Uetliberg is at the top of the ridge that runs along the lake, and gives spectacular views in all directions, especially from the observation tower.


It's a 15 minute walk from the station to the viewing platform, and it is uphill, so can leave you a bit out of breath - but the view may well take your breath away too.

It's also educational, along the walk are scale models of the sun and the nine planets (eight if you're a purist and no longer count Pluto) of our solar system.

In the photo above, you can see the sun, and Mercury is a tiny ball bearing encased in the blue plastic you can just see mounted in the stone.

The Earth is about a quarter of a mile down the path.

I confess, I've never got as far as Pluto.

Friday, 5 April 2013


I don't understand economics very well. Or maybe that's macro-economics. Quantative-easing, that sort of thing. Supply and demand, market forces, I'm ok with that, but not when it comes down to printing money and restricting the money supply.

My view on Cyprus recently was quite simple. Let it fall out of the Euro and see what happens. If it's bad, then we protect Greece, Spain etc. If not, then maybe next time we let them go their own way. It seems to me that it's a bit like being a member of a golf club. I wouldn't expect other members to pay for me if I fell on hard times and couldn't pay my subscription. It might be (ok, it definitely would be) harsh on the citizens of cyprus, but they have a democarcy and thus all share in the state they have ended up in.

But recently I read a very good article in the London Review of Books here. I especially liked the bit about how an unexpected ten pounds had a much wider effect on the economy as a result of becoming a multiplier. I'm probably not supposed to quote this much text, but as it's less than a paragraph I'll give it a go (If you're from the LRB please let me know if you're unhappy):

Imagine for a moment that you come across an unexpected ten pounds. After making a mental note not to spend it all at once, you go out and spend it all at once, on, say, two pairs of woolly socks. The person from the sock shop then takes your tenner and spends it on wine, and the wine merchant spends it on tickets to see The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and the owner of the cinema spends it on chocolate, and the sweet-shop owner spends it on a bus ticket, and the owner of the bus company deposits it in the bank. That initial ten pounds has been spent six times, and has generated £60 of economic activity. In a sense, no one is any better off; and yet, that movement of money makes everyone better off. To put it another way, that first tenner has contributed £60 to Britain’s GDP. Seen in this way, GDP can be thought of as a measure not so much of size – how much money we have, how much money the economy contains – but of velocity. It measures the movement of money through and around the economy; it measures activity. If you had taken the same ten quid when it was first given to you and simply paid it into your bank account, the net position could be argued to be the same – except that the only contribution to GDP is that initial gift of £10, and if this behaviour were replicated across the whole economy, then the whole economy would grind to a halt. And that, broadly speaking, is what is happening right now. People are sitting on that first tenner.

It reminded me of my simplified underlying belief in how the economy works: tell people they are living in a booming economy and they will spend, tell them it's a recession and they get worried and don't spend.

So, I'm just off down the pub to spend my tenner. How about you?