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