The Next Vettel?

Much has been made of there being 6 current or former World Champions on this year’s F1 grid – or 6.00001 if you count Felipe Massa’s 30 seconds as Champion at Brazil 2008.  However, who amongst the current F1 runners and riders has the potential to step up to the plate and be the next big banana, if not in 2012, in some future year.

The various drivers fall into a number of categories.  There are the resounding “no’s”.  Sadly, although he came close in 2010, Mark Webber probably falls into this group.  Even if the RB8, or rather its tyres, are more to his tastes, the Red Bull ‘mo’ is now irresistibly with Vettel.  The ship has also sailed beyond the horizon for both Massa and, again sadly,  Kovalainen.  Nothing that Kobayashi, Petrov, Maldonado and Karthikeyan have contributed so far in their F1 careers suggests that they are on the right side of the Championship  talent curve and Marussia’s Timo Glock will only be World Champion if the Russian People’s Party are in charge of counting the Championship points.

There are then those drivers who haven’t fully had the opportunity to prove themselves, but are definitely teetering on the brink of the ‘no’ skip.  Perez, Senna and, possibly, Grosjean are in this category, although it really would be something special if Senna could perform a resurrection spell on Williams and drag them back into the winners circle.

The rookies – Verge and Pic have to get a “we simply don’t know” marking.  Experience suggests that performance in lower formulae is no indicator of F1 potential.  Given that he was driving an HRT last year, I’d say that we also haven’t yet seen Daniel Ricciardo have the chance to perform in a Grand Prix car.

Who does that leave as possible future Champions?  Despite six years and no wins, I’m willing to keep the faith with ‘Britney’ Rosberg.  It would be cruel to do otherwise.  His performances for Mercedes suggest that he’s at least as good as Michael Schumacher operating at 85% of his previous talent.  Paul Di Resta is entering the “tricky second year”, which often defines a driver’s career and potential.  If he keeps developing and doesn’t drop the ball when in good positions, he might get a move to a leading team.  Nico Hulkenberg sensibly spent his “tricky second year” sitting in the Force India garage.  The only things that any of us remember about his first year in F1 was him securing pole position for Williams in Brazil and being dumped for money-bags Maldonado, neither of which harmed his reputation.  The Force India rivalry looks like one of the more fascinating prospects for 2012. 

Last but not least of the potential recipients of the Champion’s laurels is Spain’s sparkling septuagenarian Pedro de la Rosa.  Assuming he carries on racing until he is 100, he will surely get an opportunity to seize the ultimate prize.

FORMULA ONE MUM

p.s. To be honest, back in his Honda days, I’d have put Button in the past-it ‘no’ category, so what do I know?

Departing Disgracefully

So, goodbye Jarno Trulli.  The Italian joins those other long-serving and long-suffering absentees from the 2012 F1 grid – Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld.  All three had notable talents, but somehow seemed to leap from being promising newcomers to steady veterans without an intervening period of outstanding success.  All three drivers’ departures are involuntary.  Whatever you think of Barrichello’s final season, I have to admire his refusal to go quietly into the night and to treat what turned out to be his last Brazilian GP as a farewell party.

Some drivers make “good” exits from the sport.  Both Juan Manuel Fangio and Jackie Stewart retired whilst still performing at their best.  Others, like Lauda and Prost, left prematurely but came back successfully.  From extensive study, here are some key rules for making a dignified GP exit:

  • don’t go off in a sulk;
  • don’t hint at “dark forces” having acted against you;
  • don’t hang around like a bad smell, when the mojo’s gone, it’s gone;
  • don’t have stop-start retirements, or if you do, come back winning;
  • don’t spend your final season as a mobile chicane or crash magnate; and most importantly
  • don’t become too “lardy” to fit in the car.

Here are some drivers who didn’t heed this advice:

For some drivers winning the World Championship is a springboard, for others it is a motivational diving board.  James Hunt’s post-championship performances were a downward spiral of diminishing returns.  Having joined the similarly declining Wolf Team in 1979, Hunt found the car and F1 racing in general no longer to his tastes.  Having failed to make any impact in the first few races of the season Hunt retired his car with transmission failure after just 4 laps of the Monaco GP.  He promptly announced his decision to retire from all forms of racing, choosing instead to spend more time with his budgerigars.

Like Hunt, in his heyday Aussie 1980 World Champion Alan Jones was known as a hard charger.  He quit the sport in style in 1981, winning his final race at Las Vegas.  However a few years and a few too many “barbies” later, AJ returned, with undiminished ego but expanded waistline.  In a one-off race for Arrows in 1983 he retired “feeling unwell”, before completing a full season with the Beatrice-Lola-Ford corporate vanity project in 1986.  During the season, AJ argued with his teammate, his team and pretty much everyone else off the track, whilst doing little racing on it.  Retiring again, Jones subsequently signed up for the GP Masters series only to withdraw due to fitness concerns.

Nigel Mansell was another serial retiree  with girth issues.  Our Nige announced his absolute definite, no turning back retirements from F1 at the British GP 1990, Italian GP 1992 and finally, finally, the Spanish GP 1995.  The Brit’s inability to quit might explain the Philip Morris corporation’s desire to pair him with McLaren for the 1995 season.  The Mansell and McLaren combination had “disaster” written all over it, which wasn’t the best choice of paintwork.  Having spent two years supersizing in America, Mansell struggled to squeeze into the MP4/10, until a special “FB” wide load version was constructed for him.  Two dismal outings ended with Il Leone abandoning a perfectly healthy car, and the remainder of his reputation, in the pits at Barcelona.  “Nigel chose not to continue” said Ron Dennis through lips thinner than a Murder She Wrote plot line.

Damon Hill, Mansell’s successor at Williams, sadly followed his compatriot’s less than glorious path into retirement.  Hill stopped racing after a moderately successful 1998 season.  However, for some inexplicable reason, he kept turning up and driving a Jordan around on race weekends during  1999.  Having been soundly outpaced by teammate Frentzen, Hill made a half-hearted lunge for retirement after the French GP, but dragged the agony out to the final race in Japan.  Like Mansell, Hill retired a fully functioning F1 car 22 laps into his final race, with the F1 Yearbook accurately recording the retirement reason as “Discouraged”.  “I lost so much time…that in the end I reckoned there was no point in going on.”  Quite so.

However, the absolute worst departure from F1 was the Columbian bull in a china shop that was Juan Pablo Montoya’s 2006 half-season with McLaren.  When he first came into the sport, “Monty” was the swashbuckling hero who was going to topple the Schumacher and Ferrari juggernaut.  A total of 94 GP starts, 13 pole positions, 30 podiums and 7 wins should have made for a notable career.  Instead, the name Montoya only brings to mind the “tennis” injury  that caused him to miss his first few races with McLaren; his frosty relationship with Ron Dennis; punting Nico Rosberg off the track in Canada and knocking his own teammate out of the following Indianapolis GP and causing a multi-car pile up.  The Columbian responded to the ensuing criticism with all the maturity of a sulky teenaged, announcing his immediate and permanent departure from F1.  He became the first driver to quit F1 to take up dodgem car racing in the US. What a mess.

Are there any alternative examples of disgraceful F1 departures?

FORMULA ONE MUM

F1 Drivers – Forever Young

Recently, I have been thinking about Billy Bremner in Armani pants.  I have not taken on a sudden fetish for former Leeds United and Scotland players.  I have however been contemplating a curious phenomenon – F1 drivers, and sports people in general, are getting, or rather are looking, younger.

This may seem self evident.  Empirical evidence confirms that sports people are achieving success earlier. Tom Daley was a Diving World Champion at 15 and from 16 years old Wayne Rooney was playing in the Premiership and kicking players twice his age.   In F1 in recent years we have witnessed the inexorable downward trend in the youngest ever World Champion, from Alonso in 2005, to Hamilton in 2008 and Vettal in 2010.  The average Grand Prix driver’s career now makes Doogie Howser M.D. look tardy.  In contrast, both Carlos Reutemann and Clay Regazzoni, significant stars in the 1970’s, were both over thirty before they became established in F1.  Juan Manuel Fangio was forty when he won the first of his five F1 titles in 1951, which must give some hope to Pedro de la Rosa.

However, even the younger drivers looked older in the 1970s.  John Watson and Jody Scheckter both appeared to be mature men in their early twenties.  When he was crowned the youngest ever F1 champion in 1972 (aged 25) and again in 1974, Emerson Fittipaldi looked like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

The phenomenon is not limited to F1, but applies to other sports too.  Take footballers, for example.  Whether out on the pitch or swaying out of time to Back Home or Glory Glory Leeds United, even top footballers had about as much youthful sporting vigour as Michael Caine in Escape to Victory.  It’s difficult to imagine anyone hiring any of the members of Don Reeve’s championship winning side to replace David Beckham on a billboard in a pair of Armani pants.

By contrast, today’s sportsmen are Peter Pans.  When the carriage clock was finally forced into his unwilling hands at the end of  the longest career in F1 history, Rubens Barrichello  was still recognisably the same shy, fresh-faced  twenty-one year old who joined the then Jordan Team in 1993.  Michael Schumacher is aging like Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four, with a few flecks of salt-and-pepper grey hair added to his sideburns and temples, but otherwise largely unchanged.

I have no single explanation for the unaccountable transformation of our sporting heroes over the past twenty to thirty years.  Muscle tone and conditioning are presumably part of the answer.  It is difficult to imagine Jack Brabham or Alan Jones, even in their prime, joining Mark Webber on his 1,000km Tasmanian Challenge.  In F1, the significant change in driver appearance seemed to come in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s around the time that, Scheckter, Hunt, Jones and Fittipaldi all retired and driver facial hair was banned as an aerodynamic aid.

With McLaren now testing their second generation of Magnussens – 19 year old Kevin – let’s hope The Finger is looking over his shoulder and feeling his age.

FORMULA ONE MUM

On Bahrain

I Musn’t Go Down to Sakhir*

I musn’t go down to Sakhir today, to that lonely place in the sand

And all I ask is my sport with its head held tall to turn away from this land

where the camels kick and the wind’s strong and the white flag is stained with red

And a mist of tear gas hangs in the air and the faces are full of dread.

*With apologies to John Masefield

Sticks and Stones

As we move towards the 2012 Championship season, what have we learned from the outcome of the first F1 test of the year?  Over the 4 days,” Iceman” Kimi Raikkonen was fastest on day one, followed by “Aussie Grit” Webber, “Britney” Rosberg and “Nando” Alonso.   All this suggests that there is an urgent need for FIA to look at the poor quality of current F1 driver nicknames.

Driver nicknames have been an essential part of the F1 scene since the first Championship event at Silverstone in 1950.  Inevitably, the quality of those first pioneer  nicknames was  rudimentary, with Fangio “El Chueco” (Bandy Legs) racing against “Ciccio” (Butch) Ascari.  During the sixties it was a lucky driver who survived long enough to earn a nickname.

The halcyon days of F1 nicknames were the seventies and eighties, with “King Rat” Lauda taking on James Hunt “the Shunt”.  Nicknames had to be chosen with care.  A positive nickname could help illuminate a driver’s performance whilst the wrong nickname could blight a career – “Mr Monaco” Graham Hill (good choice of nickname) / “the Monza Gorilla” Vittorio Brambilla (not so good).  Italian Andrea De Cesaris never managed to live down the nickname “De Crasheris” despite a career of over 200 Grand Prix starts, admittedly not helped by images of him barrel-rolling his Ligier in Austria 1985.

The very best nicknames captured the spirit of a driver’s racing style.  Part of the magic of the Prost versus Senna battles of the late eighties was the contrast in style between the cerebral “Professor”  and the more spiritual “Magic” Senna.  Other nicknames seem to miss the mark, like perennial Dutch second-stringer Jos Verstappen, who was very rarely “The Boss” of anyone.   Nigel Mansell was presumably christened Il Leone by the Ferrari tifosi because of his resemblance to Bert Lahr’s character in the Wizard of Oz movie – “Put’m up, put’m up!”

By the nineties and noughties the quality of nicknames was already slipping, with Michael “ Schumi”, the “Red Barron” Schumacher easily outperforming the likes of David “DC” Coulthard; “Fisi” Fisichella and Damon “Over the” Hill.  The occasional nickname gems tended  to come further down the grid, like “Johnny Carwash” Giovanni Lavaggi, Antonio “Jungle Boy” Pizzonia and Ukyo “Kamikaze”Katayama.

In contrast, today’s driver nicknames either lack inspiration, like Jenson “JB” Button, or feel artificial.  For example, is the hand of Red Bull’s marketing department in Vettel’s “Finger”?  Mark Webber might consider returning to his original childhood karting nickname, “Postie”, as he rarely delivers after one o’clock.

FORMULA ONE MUM

The Limit

All politics, the saying goes, is local.  I think that means that we all care most about the things that affect us directly.  That probably explains why the biggest controversy of the 2011 F1 season in Britain was the announcement by the BBC that it would not honour its original commitment to show all Grand Prix on free-to-air TV, but would share coverage with Rupert Murdoch’s pay-to-view SKY satellite station.

For any of you who have been away in Moscow’s Mission to Mars lock-up garage for the past two years, here’s the background.   SKY’s new dedicated F1 channel will show all the races live, whilst the BBC will show half live and half on time delay.  The benefit for the BBC is a £150m saving to free up budget to send a full team to cover the rhythmic gymnastics and quoits at the London Olympics.  The downside is a loss of their public broadcaster image.  For SKY, the benefit is another sport to attract subscription income, balanced against the cost of servicing Ted Kravitz’s buffet bill.  For (some) fans there is the benefit of a dedicated F1 channel, but a reduced service for the majority.

I should say up front, I have no personal axe to grind on the BBC’s semi-detached approach to F1 2012. I am old enough to remember when F1 coverage was squeezed in between the racing from Chepstow and cricket from Headingly.   I don’t have a particular difficulty offering a buck to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.  As our house is located directly below a TV areal, ironically, we can only get a signal via digital satellite.  However, thanks to Lehman Brothers, Royal Bank of Scotland, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the entire Icelandic nation, I won’t be coughing up the additional subscription to access the SKY F1 channel.

Ever since having my children I have accepted that Sunday’s are family days and spending 2-3 hours in front of the TV is not really an option, so I avoid all media and watch most of the races delayed in the evening, once the boys are tucked into bed. I can’t claim to suffer any particular hardship from the change.  I will miss the early morning races from Asia  – now to be showed on delayed time by the BC at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.  I had always viewed it as part of my badge of honour as a true fan to watch the early morning races live.

I do understand the frustration of fans, who previously welcomed the transfer of F1 from ITV to the BBC, now seeing their F1 coverage unceremoniously divided.  The F1 Teams and management have proved yet again that mammon will always outweigh the interests of the fans.  Great Britain is, of course, only a tiny share of the world wide F1 audience, but all but a handful of the teams (and their staff and families) are based in Britain.

Whilst I am sure all the numbers have been crunched and books balanced, I do wonder if the move will serve F1 well commercially.  Unlike football, cricket, boxing or even golf, F1 is not a sport that the majority of viewers will particularly hunt out or be willing to pay for the privilege to see.  From an admittedly limited focus group of work colleagues around the water cooler on a Monday, my impression is that F1 is something to watch in the background if it happens to be on during the Sunday lunchtime dead time between Countryfile and the Eastenders Omnibus.

However, by far my biggest concern is not for the F1 teams’ bank balances but for the quality of the commentary team, or rather teams.  Having struggled for years to get the right combination for a single commentary box pairing – Jonathan Palmer,  James Allen, Jonathan Legard anyone, anyone? – it seems highly dubious that F1 will be able to sustain two quality commentary partnerships.  On the positive side, however, surely Jake Humphreys will be off covering the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012 from Gdansk and the Olympic Dressage from Greenwich throughout much of June, July and August.  Here’s hoping anyway.

FORMULA ONE MUM

Ayrton and Me

Almost 20 years ago, I joined my then boyfriend on a trip to the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. To be honest, I was hoping (in vain) for a proposal in the romantic surroundings of Brussels’ historic Grand Place.

When I asked my boyfriend before our trip if we would get the chance to see any of the drivers up close he responded with a knowing snort of derision at my foolish naivety.  A veteran of many race weekends, he explained all about the crowds, and the security and the impenetrable F1 paddock.  Even so, I was determined to enjoy the experience.  As we entered the circuit, I looked around at the sights and colours.  Suddenly, not more than five feet from me, on the other side of a single layer of fencing was Ayrton Senna.  His Honda sports car was sitting waiting for the entry barrier to the circuit to be lifted.  With the car window rolled down, he was relaxed and smiling in a short sleeve shirt, waving casually as the other fans around me spotted the sport’s supreme superstar.  Then he was gone, but the buzz stayed with me all the way into the circuit and, to be honest, all through the weekend.  As it turned out, Senna’s luck was not in for the race, he finished fifth after a tyre gamble didn’t pay off.  Instead, I was there to witness the first of Michael Schumacher’s innumerable race wins.

I learned a number of lessons from that weekend: (1) my boyfriend did not have a romantic bone in his body; (2) I would rather risk toxic shock from holding in my urine for 15 hours than use the portaloos at the Spa circuit (3) self-declared experts don’t always know best about F1 or anything else for that matter.

This blog is written in that spirit (the final point, not the portaloo one).  I am a Mum and a Formula 1 fan.  I don’t claim any special insight just a desire to write about my favourite sport.  Sadly, neither of my children are F1 fans, although my younger son will sometimes keep me company to watch a race – particularly if it involves an early morning start.  I have to share my passion elsewhere.  I’ve looked at some of the many F1 forums and blogs, but, to be honest they are not to my tastes; too many entrenched views and short term perspectives.  So I have decided to start this blog.  A friend asked if it is aimed only at female F1 fans, but it’s really for anyone who wants to share their love for F1 in a positive and fun way.

I have been practising writing pieces to see if I had anything I wanted to say, so I’ll probably put up quite a few blogs in short order, and then move onto a steadier pace. I won’t always be right, but I will always be honest about my opinion.  I will try my best to be accurate and to reflect some of the history of the sport, rather than just the latest controversy or scandal.  There are a number of great blogs by professional journalists who take the time and spend the money to attend all the races and provide an insider’s insight.  This blog is very much a view from the living room armchair, but, after all, that’s where 99.9% of F1 fans see the action from.  Thank you for your time.

FORMULA ONE MUM*

*P.S.  This blog was going to be called ‘Formula Mum’, until someone pointed out that I might be mistaken for an anti-breastfeeding campaigner!