Amidst the backdrop of tragedy, and with emotions running high as F1 paid its respects to the late Jules Bianchi, the Hungarian Grand Prix would prove to be a fitting tribute to the 25 year old Frenchman, as the race delivered arguably the most exciting spectacle the sport has seen for a couple of years.

HungaryBianchiTribute(this beautiful image from the Associated Press shows just how much love there is for Bianchi)

Prior to the race the grid and the spectators came together to hold a minute’s silence for Bianchi, a touching tribute attended by his family. Then the drivers put their helmets on and got into race mode, and there was drama from the very beginning.

After the warm-up lap, came… another warm-up lap! The Williams of Felipe Massa had not lined up correctly on the grid, and this required that everyone go around again to get back into position – and meant Massa would have to take a five-second penalty at his first pit stop. When the cars were finally back into position and ready to race, once again both Mercedes drivers got away sluggishly, and this time it was the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen that surged by them – Vettel and Hamilton getting very close into turn 1, as the Englishman wound up losing three places, slipping into fourth by the time they reached turn 3.

HungaryStart(for the second race in a row, Mercedes have been caught out)

Rosberg may have beaten Hamilton off the line but he too had no answer to Vettel or Raikkonen.

The first-lap hijinks weren’t over. Hamilton, wanting to get by his Mercedes teammate Rosberg quickly, was snapping at the German’s heels as they approached the chicane at turns 6 and 7. Hamilton misjudged the situation and ran over the gravel, losing time and places – finding himself in 10th!

HungaryHamiltonWide(Hamilton takes an unorthodox route through the chicane)

It seemed that the race would benefit Rosberg’s title chances considerably, but whilst third would have been a good finish in the circumstances, it was also shaping up to be the best he could hope for – the Ferraris were not only matching Rosberg’s pace but in fact pulling clear, showing speed they’d only shown in fits and spurts so far this season.

Hamilton begun to slowly creep back up the pack, dispatching car after car, whilst further up, the Red Bulls swapped places after Kvyat let Ricciardo through to push up – and with vast differences between the performances of the soft and medium tyres, the first set of stops altered the dynamic of some of the battles.

There was plenty of excitement to be had. Lotus’ Pastor Maldonaldo got a penalty for shunting the Force India of Sergio Perez off the track just after turn 2 (though Perez was able to resume racing), and Maldonaldo’s teammate Romain Grosjean also received a penalty for an unsafe pit stop release.

As the race progressed Hamilton had crept up into fourth, and was bearing down on Rosberg (after the first stops, Hamilton had elected for a second stint on the soft tyre, Rosberg was on the slower medium compound). A sudden and terrifying front-wing failure for Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India on the start-finish straight brought his race to an abrupt end, and triggered a safety car that saw a flurry of pit stop activity and put renewed pressure on the previously untroubled Ferraris. By this point, Raikkonen had a problem with his car, and as the race restarted he could nothing about Rosberg, who breezed past him.

HungaryHulk(Hulkenberg’s crash triggered a crucial safety car period)

The race up until this point had been good, but the final stint would prove breathtaking. I thought the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix had been a classic – compared to this, it had nothing.

At the restart, Hamilton tried to get around the Red Bull of Ricciardo (who, along with Kvyat, had been showing good pace all weekend, in a much improved showing for Red Bull). As they swung round turn 1, Hamilton misjudged where Ricciardo was and hit the side of the Red Bull, damaging the sidepod of the Australian’s car and ruining his own front wing. Hamilton was forced to pit, and also had to serve a drive-through penalty, ending any chance he had of winning the race. Ricciardo, remarkably, was able to carry on, even getting by Raikkonen’s struggling Ferrari and actually starting to catch Vettel and Rosberg.

During the chaos that was unfolding, both McLarens found themselves in the points, as did Grosjean (Maldonaldo took further penalties for various reasons to scupper his points chances), whilst Hamilton had to yet again climb back up through the field. It looked like Rosberg was going to make significant gains on Hamilton in the title race – but there was one more twist in this absorbing race.

Ricciardo would catch up to Rosberg with several laps to go and would harass the Mercedes but couldn’t easily find a way by – on lap 64 of 69, he made a daring bid under late braking into turn 1 and was almost by Rosberg – but the German came back across, neither driver could react in time and Rosberg chopped off part of Ricciardo’s front wing – giving himself a rear-left puncture in the process. Both cars had to pit once more – but it was Rosberg who came off worse, unable to go at racing speeds and sliding wide on several occasions as he made his way back. Incredibly, Ricciardo emerged from his stop in 3rd – behind his teammate Kvyat, who had kept his nose clean.

HungaryRosPunt(Rosberg’s unlucky puncture ruined his afternoon – image courtesy of the BBC)

Hamilton would end up 6th, whilst Rosberg sunk to 8th – so, despite an error-strewn performance (this particular F1 fan feels Hamilton was too impatient at times and lacked composure), Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg has risen from 17 points to 21 points – but it was undoubtedly Vettel who gained the most, taking a dominant win (and a first for him in Hungary) to earn his 41st career win (equaling Ayrton Senna) and his second win of the year. He has reduced the gap between himself and Hamilton to 42 points and must still consider himself in with a chance.

Kvyat too, looked cool and calm even as all around him lost their heads. A first podium was a fine result for him, and also for Red Bull, who had previously looked out of sorts. Ricciardo took third place and thus meant both Red Bulls were on the podium – also marking the first time since Brazil 2013 that there wasn’t a Mercedes on the podium.

Another great story from the race was the performance of young Max Verstappen. The 17 year old Toro Rosso driver was fourth, in another example of a composed performance, and a fantastic effort.

Both McLarens scored points, with Fernando Alonso (who had pushed his car back to the pits during qualifying) finishing a season-best fifth, and Jenson Button finishing ninth. Marcus Erikkson took a point with tenth for Sauber, whilst Williams and Force India (two teams which have been performing stronger in recent weeks) scored no points.

After a difficult week that has tested the emotions and reminded everyone associated with Formula 1 of the dangers of the sport, F1 needed a race like this. It was the best possible memorial to Jules Bianchi, and as a fan, the race had everything. I hope Belgium can produce something similar.

Back to F1 2015

It’s with a heavy heart that F1 arrives in Budapest for the 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix. The events of the past week have taken their toll on everyone involved in the sport, and tributes to Jules Bianchi are expected to take place throughout the weekend, as it fitting.

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The drivers will get back behind the wheels of their cars and race hard in Jules’ honour, aiming to pay tribute to him in the best possible way – with hard racing. 70 laps around the Hungaroring will see the title fight between Hamilton and Rosberg resume, with the gap standing at 17 points prior to the race.

Last year saw a dramatic race, with Hamilton forced (for the 2nd race in succession) to start from the pitlane. He would fight his way up the field, aided by safety car spells that unhinged Rosberg’s race and saw Daniel Ricciardo take his second win. It seems unlikely he will repeat this feat this year, given the ongoing problems Red Bull have faced, whilst Fernando Alonso is extremely unlikely to repeat his 2nd place finish! (then again Ricciardo and teammate Kvyat did manage 3rd and 2nd in practice, so they might have a better race than expected)

Hopefully we’ll have a good race, a race that stands as a powerful memorial to Jules.

Back to F1 2015

MasterofOrion2CoverI’ve always enjoyed strategy games. Four X games (expand, explore, exploit, exterminate) can come in many flavours, ranging from fantasy settings (Warcraft) to historical games (Total War) and settings based on established genres (Star Wars: Empire at War and Star Trek: Birth of the Federation). One of my favourite all-time strategy games is Master of Orion II.

The original Master of Orion game was a pretty solid, enjoyable one in itself. Master of Orion III was something of a convoluted mess, with a messy interface system that I didn’t like. Master of Orion II was, to me, the best of the bunch, with a simple style, lots to do, and as much macro or micro-management as you wanted.

MasterofOrion2Colony(you could automatic production of facilities and ships if you wanted)

With a considerable technology tree to research and up to seven AI-controlled factions to face off against, in galaxies of various sizes and various resource levels, you could customise the game to a great degree before even starting. You would then enter into a turn-based game, where you could check out your colonies, assign colonists to one of three main areas (research, production and farming), and set up build queues. As you carried out research and met alien races, you would unlock (through research, trade and espionage) new technologies and therefore new buildings. You would also develop new technologies for your ships, and you could design your ships quite extensively.

MasterofOrion2Combat(combat is a key element of the game)

I would argue it’s pretty vital to get scouts out early on, finding planets worth colonising and getting colony ships to them quickly. Prime real estate can be hard to come by in MOO2!

The game is easy to get into and it’s surprising how quickly you can lose yourself in it. I could honestly play this for hours at a time!

9/10

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As you may have noticed, my site’s undergone something of a major change. The original theme I started out has been replaced. Quite simply, I felt the need for a change – the previous theme, whilst certainly functional, was a bit… well, sterile. I also wanted to try and emphasis the meerkat theme – after all, the site is called Meerkat Musings!

We’re currently in an age of Formula 1 where driver safety has never been better. The era of great risk to drivers is, by and large, gone. There is inevitably a degree of danger though, as one would expect from getting behind the wheel of an open-cockpit vehicle and racing it at high speeds in various conditions, alongside other people doing the same.

The drivers know of this risk and accept it, and for their bravery I applaud them. It is impossible to completely remove that danger.

Nevertheless, given Formula 1’s vastly improved safety record, I don’t think anyone really expects serious accidents to happen. Yes, there have been injuries and people have walked away from horrific accidents that might have had fatal consequences twenty years ago, but the idea that someone might lose their life? That simply doesn’t happen anymore.

Until, sadly, today.

As a consequence of the severe head injuries he sustained during last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, Jules Bianchi, considered by many to be a rising star in Formula 1, has passed away.

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In retrospect, given the nature of Bianchi’s injuries, it was always unlikely that he would make a full recovery, and as time went on, the likelihood of any sort of recovery sadly faded. His family maintained their (and his) dignity during a very difficult past nine months, and I hope they are left to grieve in peace.

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I didn’t know much about Bianchi, until he arrived in F1 in 2013. He was a product of Ferrari’s young driver program (having proven himself in feeder series) and Ferrari saw potential in him. He was a reserve and test driver for both Ferrari and Force India, before joining Marussia in 2013. Bianchi would consistently outperform his teammates during his two competitive years in F1.

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Marussia were never going to challenge consistently for points, let alone podiums, but at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, Bianchi took his chances, forcing himself up the field to secure his (and the team’s) best finish in Formula 1 with 9th place and 2 world championship points. It was a remarkable and fantastic moment for Bianchi and Marussia alike.

I’m not going to discuss the accident that ultimately cost Bianchi his life. Suffice to say, it was a dark moment for Formula 1. I would rather remember Bianchi as the man who worked his way into Formula 1 on merit, who was immensely likeable, and who defied the odds to get himself and his team points when no one expected him to.

Rest in Peace Jules.

Back to Formula 1

Terminator2Hot on the heels of my Terminator review, comes my review of the sequel (the aptly named Terminator 2: Judgement Day).

It’s clear from the start of the film that Terminator 2 is a different animal to the first installment. Whereas T1 was made on a relative shoestring (and the technology behind the SFX wasn’t as sophisticated), T2 has a bigger budget and more pulling power. By this point, James Cameron (the director) had become a big name in Hollywood, and he’d taken his time to ensure he crafted the sort of sequel he wanted to make. Waiting seven years to make a sequel would be unfathomable to Hollywood moguls these days, yet this made T2 work – it shows throughout the film that it was well thought out, and measured in production.

The film is actually set in 1994, ten years on from the events of the first film (though T2 opens with a brief blistering Future War sequence, which shows in slightly more detail the raw and furious struggle for survival between man and machine). It’s made clear to us that the stakes are high too – the fires of nuclear war are another of the opening scenes, reminding us that the future is full of foreboding and pain. Once again, there is a fight for the future at hand.

Terminator2FutureWar(T2 raised the bar for summer blockbusters)

Every scene in this film is well structured and slickly put together. One of my favourite parts of T2 (though in truth, I have many favourite parts) is when the Terminator barges into a biker’s bar, stark naked, and demands clothes – it’s a great, well-staged fight.

T2 is not as fast-paced as its predecessor, but once again there is no superfluous action. The tension ramps up in the build-up to the terminators finding John Connor at virtually the same time (the musical score here by the way is brilliant, overlapping the ominous T-800 and T-1000 tunes), and the T-1000’s pursuit of John with a truck is one of many exhilarating scenes.

Away from the action, we have moments for each character to establish themselves and they all get a chance to shine. John Connor (played by then-newcomer Edward Furlong) is a tearaway, having initially been brought up by Sarah to believe he was destined to save humanity, only to learn that his mother is in fact, crazy. Naturally, this has messed with his head somewhat, and the subsequent discovery that his mother was right comes – as it would – as a shock to the system.

Sarah Connor (again played by Linda Hamilton) has naturally hardened. With the weight of the world on her shoulders, Sarah has been seeking to stop Judgement Day and train her son to be the warrior who will destroy Skynet (if she fails to stop Skynet from ever being built). Having ended up being arrested and then locked away in a psychiatric hospital, and denied access to her son, Sarah has naturally been going mad, unable to convince anyone of the truth and even having her own son reject her.

Terminator2John(John Connor had to grow up fast)

Terminator2Sarah

(Sarah became a hardened, angry fighter)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is once again the Terminator, and once again he fulfills the role without a problem. He is a natural at the role, as is Robert Patrick as the T-1000 (the new Terminator sent back to kill John). The clashes between these two in the film are thunderous (as is expected of two completely unstoppable, determined machines).

In fact, Robert Patrick is an unsung hero of this film. His portrayal of the ruthless assassin that is the T-1000 is brilliant. He moves with deadly grace, and his face conveys the look of something utterly focused and completely implacable.

Terminator2T1000(ouch!)

Much of T2 deals with destiny. Sarah is determined to prevent Judgement Day from ever happening, and to this end, is prepared (or thinks she’s prepared) to do whatever it takes to change the future. When faced with committing murder to do exactly that, Sarah finds she can’t make the cold, mechanical move – she is after all, a human being, and despite years of suffering and pain, she chooses not to abandon that. There is also the move to blow up Cyberdyne Systems (the precursor to Skynet), in a bid to change the future.

The final, climatic scene features some of the best moments in any film I’ve ever seen. From the tanker of liquid nitrogen to the Terminator coming back from being half-smashed to pieces and coming back swinging, I cannot help but think that the Terminator franchise should have ended here. Right at the end, we get a reminder of the need to value human life – a message that will always be important.

10/10

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TerminatorPosterTime for another dose of nostalgia. Having recently taken a trip down memory lane with the Jurassic Park franchise, the release of Terminator: Genisys is as good a time as any to look back at where the Terminator franchise began.

With reviews of Genisys being less than complimentary (I haven’t personally seen it yet, so I will withhold judgement), it seems the Terminator franchise is in serious danger of becoming a cash cow. There is already meant to be a sequel to Genisys (penciled in for 2017), but personally, I feel the franchise could have (and should have) shut up shop with Judgement Day (which I’ll be reviewing later).

The original film was released in 1984 (yes, it’s over 30 years old now), but one of the first things that struck me upon watching it the other day is that the visuals still hold up well even now. The scene where the petrol tanker the Terminator is driving blows up (subsequently leading to a skinless gleaming machine rising menacingly from the fire) remains well-done, even to this day.

TerminatorFX(whilst this is clearly a puppet, it’s still a good representation of what it needs to be)

TerminatorSkel

(the Terminator constructed for the film’s final scene looked very real!)

What however, truly impresses me about The Terminator is that it is very raw. The life and death chase that our characters embark on does not hinder the telling of the story and the telling of the story does not impede the pace of the film. From the very start we’re presented with a desperate battle for survival – Kyle Reese is a scrawny resistance fighter, tasked with somehow protecting an innocent, sweet young Sarah Connor from termination at the hands of an unstoppable assassin. Throughout the film Kyle and Sarah are scrambling to stay one step ahead of the Terminator, and you are left feeling their fear and worry (how do they even begin to fight something that’s impervious to just about every weapon they can lay their hands on?)

Any film worth its salt will have compelling characters and The Terminator is no exception. Sarah Connor is thrust from her ordinary life to discover she is meant to be the mother of humanity’s saviour, whilst at the same time being force to leave everything she knows in order to fight for her life with a man she can’t be sure isn’t crazy. In one night, her world turns upside down for good. Kyle Reese has known nothing but a scramble for existence ever since he was born (which brings me to a gripe about Genisys – the new Kyle Reese is a muscular hunk with a six-pack – which defies the world and lifestyle of a resistance fighter in those circumstances – the original Kyle captures precisely what we should expect of someone in Kyle’s shoes), and is pretty uncompromising, whilst secretly harbouring feelings for Sarah.

The part of the Terminator itself was made for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s come under fire for wooden acting (something he actually admits), but the cold mechanical way he moves in this film gives the Terminator it’s menace factor. There is not a hint of humanity in his portrayal.

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn also give good performances. They’re believable as tragic characters trying to make sense of the situation they find themselves in, finding comfort in each other arms.

It’s perhaps an irony that the film’s low budget is a contributing factor to its success. Everything feels a little rough around the edges, as things should when you’re fighting for your lives and on the run.

The Terminator remains a great film, one every sci-fi fan should see. 9/10.