What with the arrival of Star Trek Discovery, there has been something of a renewed focus on Star Trek, but another show – a non-Star Trek show – had already beaten Discovery to the punch, if only a little bit. The Orville is from the mind of Seth MacFarlane, usually associated with the crass humour of Family Guy and the Ted movies. Yet, after three episodes, it’s fair to say The Orville is not crass or crude, and what’s more, it’s not a spoof of Star Trek, nor a series version of Galaxy Quest. It’s not serious like Star Trek tends to be, but whilst there are comedic themes, there have also been (bearing in mind I’ve only seen three episodes!) some typically Star Trek takes on issues of the day – such as transgender and parental rights, respect for other cultures and how we treat animals.

There is a kind of gentle humour here, a style that’s quite light and fluffy, yet it’s not trivialising important issues. The writing is quite clever, and it’s worth noting that Brannon Braga, executive producer on several Star Trek shows, is on board as a producer here too, which would help to explain the Star Trek feel of this show. I can’t say for sure how the series will fare as it continues, but so far, it has been very entertaining, quite funny, and it does what Star Trek is supposed to do – it makes you think.

For the third time since 2002, we have a reboot of the Spiderman film franchise, with Tom Holland stepping into the boots that Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield had previously filled. The key difference this time is that Holland’s Spiderman inhabits the established Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining the fold, so to speak (hence the title, ‘Homecoming‘). The arrangement between Marvel and Sony is a great bit of business for both studios, and it also gives fans what they wanted to see – one of the best-loved comic book characters Marvel has ever produced joining the MCU.

Of course, with that power comes great responsibility (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Tom Holland is the youngest of the three actors to play Peter Parker on the big screen, and as a teenager himself, is perhaps best-placed to understand the awkwardness of the age, when you are desperate to fit in, yet completely unsure of how to do it. To add to the character’s worries is the desire to be part of something greater – Parker has his powers, but is not regarded as a member of the Avengers, on account of his youth and inexperience. So naturally, he yearns to prove himself, with disastrous consequences.

Not that these consequences are entirely of his own making. A bit of trust from a key character at a certain time might have been enough to prevent a big problem later on, yet much of what happens through the middle of the film is on Parker’s uncontrolled determination to be the hero he wants to be, even if it means he overextends himself. Something we all grapple with as teenagers – we want to be more than we are, we want to fit in, we want to prove ourselves, whilst lacking the understanding that experience brings. I think we can all relate to Parker in that respect.

We also see other sides to Parker – his determination and his courage. After a pivotal moment where he is stripped of his confidence and the support of Tony Stark, he is unexpectedly thrust back into a deadly situation – or to be more precise, he puts himself back into a deadly situation when he sees an opportunity to step in and correct his earlier mistake. This exposes him to great danger, but he is conscious of the greater danger of letting the situation continue unchecked, and he doesn’t hesitate to put place himself in harm’s way to stop the bad guy. Bravery has often been a key part of the character – just look at the comics – so this is a nice way of honouring the character.

Speaking of the bad guy, Michael Keaton is an Oscar winner and he reminds people as to why here. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture carries a lot of steel and menace as a guy driven to the edge, and he is not (unlike some Marvel villains) a one-dimensional character, but rather, a man who feels that he is doing a service for the little guys against the fat cats. He sells weapons of tremendous power to the wrong people, but acts to protect his family and loved ones, and has a strong sense of loyalty to the little gang he works with. He can be ruthless; he does so to protect the people he loves.

In fact, this brings me to a nice little moment at the end – both hero and villain have the opportunity to let the other die/set the dogs on the other. Both pass this chance up in order to do the right thing. This sets the film apart from many of the other MCU entries, which tend to be quite ‘black and white’ in terms of how they handle their dilemmas.

In terms of the other characters… really, they feel quite incidental. Jacob Batalon is Ned, Parker’s best friend, and he provides comic relief and an outlet for Parker, but not a lot else (though he does have one of the best lines in the movie). Laura Harrier is Liz, Parker’s dream girl, but she doesn’t really have a lot to do. She is portrayed as being very clever, but doesn’t get too many chances to demonstrate this. A more interesting character is Michelle, played by Zendaya, of Disney TV series fame. Michelle is quite a bullish character, speaking what’s on her mind and eschewing the standard narrative of high school culture. Finally, Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man, serving as the main link between this new incarnation of Spiderman and the MCU as a whole, whilst Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan, the somewhat beleaguered security chief/administrator for Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a cameo at the end as Pepper Potts, but it’s very brief, and Chris Evans appears as Captain America in some ‘motivational videos’ which are quite funny.

The film is ultimately a vehicle for Peter Parker, and also for Tom Holland. He does an excellent job portraying the confused state that young Parker is in, ranging from his nervous energy, to dejected misfit.

Finally, I feel compelled to praise the length and breadth of the MCU. The last three entries we’ve had Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and now Spiderman Homecoming. One film dealt with mysterious realms and ‘magic’, the other was misfit team space adventure, and this latest film is about teenage angst. Each film weaves part of a complex tapestry and yet manages to be distinctive. The universe Marvel has built is truly amazing.

9/10

It’s home Grand Prix time! And as it normal for the UK, the elements would play a role. The practice sessions took place in dry conditions but the Met Office was forecasting a 90% chance of rain come the start of the race – without rain during practice runs it was guesswork as to setup and tyre performance. It was also a gamble as to whether to start on inters or full wets – what would the weather do?! A brief opportunity did arise to do testing but the erratic performance of the precipitation rendered the information more or less pointless. It was, for me at least, a case of trusting my gut. With the forecast changing and hinting at prolonged rain, I went for full wets on both cars.

The choice proved correct. The rain fell for a considerable length of time, saturating the track. I opted for a two-stop strategy for both drivers and away we went.

From the beginning it became clear this was a three-tier race – those who had not run any wet weather practice, nor attempted a wet weather setup, languished behind everyone else, not aided by being on inters (which the game defaults to). Then came a second group – which my cars were attached to, along with the Drivezalot boys and one other. Then we had the leaders, who peeled away quickly. Once Drivezalot’s Morales had gotten ahead of a car in front of him he too began to pull away – leaving the rest of us to scrap for the lower points places. At one stage I had both cars in the points (yes, Taylor was keeping a reasonable pace for once), there was to be a new variable late on, and a miscalculation.

With only a few laps remaining the rain suddenly stopped, which would work in Thompson’s favour as he would gain a few places by sticking to wet tyres as others pitted. Thompson would claim 7th place – not a bad effort. Taylor was running in the points but I had underfuelled him; a last lap stop dropped him to 12th. Still, a third consecutive points finish keeps me hitting targets and staying comfortably clear of relegation.

In the title race, a Black Arrows 1-2 provided a lift to them at a time where other teams had been threatening. However, it was J Smith and not Thompson who won. J Hill of Mopar completed the podium. Those who kept on wet tyres were the ones who benefited here.



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Since 1999 Malaysia has been hosting F1 races, but 2017 will bring that to a close. Because of (surprise surprise) financial problems, the Sepang circuit won’t be providing any more F1 thrills and spills for the foreseeable future. As an event, the race has sometimes provided drama in the wet, and even in the dry – whilst last season (and this season) the race is being held later in the year, it has sometimes popped up as the second or third race, when teams are still getting to grips with new cars. This has produced some topsy-turvy moments – 2012 for example, featuring an unlikely win for Fernando Alonso with Ferrari and second place for Sergio Perez, then of Sauber. It also saw a drenched race in 2001.

Given Malaysia’s location, this race can rival Singapore for heat and humidity, with the saving grace being that the race isn’t quite as long. Nonetheless, Malaysia manages to be quite gruelling. There are some bumpy corners too – turn 4 is rough, and so is turn 9.

How will 2017’s race play out? Well, Mercedes might well fancy their chances, but it’s important to remember Ferrari outwitted them on strategy here in 2015. Whilst there are some long, powerful straights, there are also bendy sequences that might play into Ferrari’s hands. Overall, the track does seem more geared up to speed, but in what could be variable conditions, it would be unwise to assume a clear Mercedes victory.

A race that doesn’t exist in F1 anymore, Turkey features a famous and long, fast left-hander as well as several bumpy regions of track. Playing on F1 2009 on the Wii (am I showing my age?), Turkey was a race I quite enjoyed, as it was quite challenging.

Practice threw up an odd variable – rain. Turkey isn’t associated with wet weather, yet the early presence of water meant being conservative with practice runs – I proceeded on the assumption that later in the day it would be dry. I was right. Qualifying saw Schumacher on pole with D Thompson behind him and the Drivezalot pair of Schneider and Morales just behind them. My best effort was 11th, from G Thompson, nearly a second down. The race translated to fairly long runs on medium tyres, with Thompson running the hard and soft compounds at some point, and Taylor sticking exclusively to mediums.

This resulted in Taylor languishing, finishing 15th, but Thompson once again took ninth, so after two races out of the points, I’ve now had two races back in the points. It’s still some way from where I want to be, but I’ve changed my approach to how I develop the car, in the hope of leaping forward a little bit.

Race winner? Dudek of 221op, some nine seconds clear of his teammate Bliss, who was some 12 or so seconds ahead of Morales. Black Arrows still lead the constructor’s race on 198 points to 221op’s 132, but recent form suggests the second half of the season will provide some close racing and a tight battle. In the driver’s standings, D Thompson still leads, but his advantage has been cut to 23 points, with Dudek in hot pursuit. The stage is set for some intrigue.

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Apologies readers, for this review is a little later than planned (life interferes sometimes!). Monaco, the land of glitz and glamour (albeit not for us players!) brought a second consecutive win for G Papandreou of Mopar. The surge in teams getting competitive for wins and podiums is a sign of how good this league is – no one can rest on their laurels, even for an instant.

My abiding personal memory of this race is that I halted my recent slide by collecting points for ninth – and for a time, had hoped to catch Smith of Black Arrows, but he was always lurking just out of DRS range. Sadly, this post won’t be more detailed, as I am battling a cold and my memory is therefore hazy (I was also distracted by Star Trek Discovery), but the rise to form of Mopar… plus the improvements by other teams… would they continue?

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It’s finally here – the latest chapter in the Star Trek saga beamed to our screens over the past couple of days, marking a return to television for the first time since Enterprise ended in 2005. Star Trek Discovery is, like its predecessor, a prequel show – it is set ten years prior to the events of the original 1960s series. Bearing that in mind, Discovery is visually very different to TOS and this has not gone unnoticed – a number of fans took to Twitter and to message boards to criticise this approach. After all, we’re not talking minor changes; the controls and displays on the Federation ships are as up-to-date as you can get, reflecting more of what we would conjure up now than the aesthetic of the original show. Given that Discovery is meant to be set in the ‘Prime’ universe and given it has been declared canon by the powers that be, we can either accept this very different set of visuals, or we can complain – but A: complaining won’t undo anything and B: we have had only two episodes – who can say how the show might progress, on all fronts, as the story progresses?

Perhaps the biggest redesign (and one certainly noticed in the trailers) was with the Klingons. Their ships look different, their dress code is different and the Klingons themselves look different. Whilst they are immediately recognisable as Klingons, it’s also very clear that they are not only visually altered, but there are cultural differences as well. Case in point is how they treat their dead, among other details. Once again there are complaints from  certain elements of the fanbase – but this isn’t the first time the Klingons have undergone physical and cultural changes. Recall the sudden (and unexplained for decades) change the Klingons underwent visually between TOS and the first movie. Recall the cultural changes between TOS and TNG, when the Klingons went from scheming political maneuverers to Vikings in space. The suggestion that Klingon society should be presented as static and unchanging is no more realistic than suggesting human societies and cultures have remained static.

Finally, before delving into the episodes themselves, a few words on the canon matter. ‘Canon’ in this context refers to an established continuity, a set timeline and set of events that is fixed into Star Trek lore. The ‘Prime’ timeline refers to the one established back in TOS, whereas the ‘Kelvin’ timeline refers to the new, divergent timeline established in the 2009 Star Trek film. Executive Producer Bryan Fuller said at the San Diego Comic Con in 2016 that the show was set in the Prime timeline. That is, frankly, all the information we need, and sets the rules we have to work by. That being said, Discovery does feel like a reboot, in terms of style, with so far, very little to connect it to the rest of the Star Trek franchise. It cannot work with the Kelvin timeline at all, despite early hints that it could in theory slot into either timeline. Nonetheless, the official statements are the ones we live by.

On to the show, so to speak. Was it any good (beyond this point, there be spoilers)

 

 

 

(you have been warned)

 

 

 

The short answer is – maybe. The long answer – it was interesting without being overly tremendous. Although a lot happened in the opening episode, not a lot happened (if that makes sense), and whilst the second episode (hidden beyond a pay wall, something I’ve griped about already) involved a lot of action, it still didn’t really feel like a lot happened. The first two episodes have been entirely about setting up the rest of the episodes, rather than standing on their own right.

We don’t even see the starship Discovery herself – the titular vehicle isn’t even hinted at. Instead, virtually all the action takes place on the Shenzhou, and this ship – which got a lot of airtime in the trailers – is short-lived.

Of the characters… well, only two appear to be moving from the Shenzhou to Discovery, and of those, we only really get to know one, Commander Michael Burnham, who we learn was learning the ways of the Vulcans before an attack by the Klingons. Her story will be the main thrust of the series, but beyond establishing a firm dislike of the Klingons and having her confidence in herself badly shaken, we don’t yet know much. This is not surprising – a pilot episode is hardly going to reveal all the show’s secrets – so we can’t really jump to many conclusions. All in all, there is enough there to lure me back, though I am thankful I have family/friends with Netflix, as there isn’t enough there to convince me to subscribe.

The European leg of the season begins with Spain! This was yet another poor race for me – the hard tyre let me down and my cars were too heavy, leading to yet another failure to score points or hit my target. Cest la vie. It was however an interesting race in other ways, featuring a different winner, and J Smith of Black Arrows finishing ahead of his normally quicker teammate Thompson, who didn’t even make the podium. Instead Panpandreou of Mopar took the win, albeit by a slender margin from Smith, with Mopar’s J Hill completing the top three. For a long time I’d thought the Drivezalot boys of Morales and Schneider might take podiums; where I could I’d look at how the leaders were doing and those two were in the thick of things. Instead, real life intervened, leaving the team to fate. There were still points to be had, but the signs are there that Drivezalot are going to be competitive.

I wish I could say the same for me. I haven’t registered points for two consecutive races, so I need to bounce back.

After five rounds, the driver’s championship looks like this:


The constructor’s standings are:

Hot and dusty Bahrain was the venue for round four of the championship, and given the heat, tyres would take a serious punishment here. Harder compounds would fare better (at least, in theory), staying cooler in the intense temperatures. Nonetheless, short stints on the soft tyre were in order for several teams, and I used softs for Taylor’s qualifying, which saw him start 11th, albeit he was more than a second down on pole sitter Schumacher of RBHRT. However, as we have seen, starting on pole is not a good measure for who will end up winning. Instead, the race threw up some expected results, and some new faces in the points. It was also, for me, an unmitigated disaster.

For whatever reason my cars just weren’t quick around here. Despite long runs on the hard tyre yielding positions in the points at one stage or another, come the end of all the stops Thompson and Taylor were firmly in the midfield and there they would stay. Thompson was catching a few cars ahead, but would have needed several more laps to actually move higher up, much less get into the points. The only positive for me is that Taylor looked a lot better relative to Thompson, finishing ten seconds behind his teammate, as opposed to half a minute or so.

It won’t come as a surprise to learn that D Thompson of Black Arrows won yet again, extending his championship lead and that of his team’s. What we did get were the first points of the season for the Drivezalot team, which is pretty pleasing as the manager of the team is someone I’ve raced against for a few seasons, and we moved to this league together, so it would nice to continue our rivalry. C Morales took fifth for Drivezalot, comfortably beating his previously quicker teammate L Schneider, who finished ninth.

What this all means is that after four races, Black Arrows are on 140 points, 78 points ahead of 221op. Already we’re looking at almost two one-two finishes for Black Arrows’ closest challengers, combined with few or no points, to close that gap. In the driver’s championship, D Thompson is on 93 points, 41 points clear of Dudek. Again, that’s more than a race win. I’ll do a comprehensive table after round 5.

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A double-header today, as I didn’t get around to writing up the Chinese GP yesterday. The simple story of the Chinese race would be yet another win for G Thompson of Black Arrows, cementing his place at the top of the standings. Behind him was J Hill of Mopar, scoring the best result of the season so far, for both driver and team. D Hill of Pulurburz was third, and then J Smith in the second Black Arrows was fourth. The top four were separated by only seven or so seconds, and just behind them came… me! Or more precisely, G Thompson of Meerkat Racing, scoring his best result so far (not to mention the best result I’ve had this season). Once again a two-stop strategy for G Thompson appeared faster – albeit only just – than the three-stopper used by some of the other teams. Someone is going to have to start taking chances if Black Arrows are to be beaten.

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