MotorSport and Tobacco Kill. Light up for Marco and Dan.

Dan Wheldon, God bless him. I wasn’t going to write about one little crash, which happened to claim the life of a great British pilot. Not 7 days later, Marco Simoncelli, God bless him. I wasn’t going to mention such a collision either. Often the riders walk away to a roar of applause and cheer from the crowd, but not this time.
Neither of these incidents differs from the hundreds of other deaths in motorsport. Often deaths are unnoticed, classed as ‘also-rans’ who probably made a mistake. Some deaths point the finger of blame, wrongly to a competitor involved. And sometimes it’s a mystery, no explanation; they just veer away from the pre-determined racing line and never return.
There are many incidents, horrific, sad, wasteful and from a critics view sometimes inevitable.
It is widely agreed that motorsport is dangerous, even at a go-karting level there is the risk something could possibly happen, which in that one to a thousand shot would result in the drivers untimely death.
To pre-empt the barrage of media coverage that will no doubt call for the banning of this sick suicidal sport in many ‘westernised’ countries, I hope to speak on behalf of the true motorsport enthuasiasts.
I hope to speak for the haters of DRS, the loathers of KERs, the fans that cry when they realise F1 is going green with 1.8l engines.
Death and Motorsport go hand in hand. It’s part of the attraction, in a highly modernised world or fast food and internet shopping, men and women alike will go in search of that thrill, primitively taking down a saber tooth tiger, modernly taming a 200 mph circuit, both with that risk of death and the payoff of survival and reward.
Motorsport kills. That’s why we never minded having tobacco sponsorship.
It’s a choice, the riders, the drivers know the risk and enjoy taking them. The fans understand this risk and take great joy from watching people survive.
Do fans care? Of course, why else is twitter and facebook full of heartfelt messages, why else are my eyes streaming as I watch the coverage? Of course we care, but come what may, no racing fan will ever say “enough is enough, stop” and for that reason, the race, just like the show, will go on.

The Silverstone Trio

The Old Afro

As the unnoticed figure turned away from the Lotus Renault GP truck, I track his movements and push through the crowd. Against the flow of movement, people are moving towards the revving F1 engine, I continue into the current chasing this ignored man. He’s behind the barrier; at the lucky side with freedom to roam, but he’s heading for the corner barrier to escape past a burly security bloke I quizzed earlier. The waves of people are holding me back but a fan asks for an autograph as my target edges closer to the crowd. In this moment people begin to notice him, not quite understanding why this request was made of a man in denim and converse. He’s past the security guard and I’m upon him, matching his stride pace for pace.

“Romain, Hello..”
“Hi there..” After a brief introduction he knows I’m not press and he lets me join him on his journey to the paddock.
“Ricciardo is here today, but is racing with HRT. What’s the best way to get into a top F1 team these days? Through your route of a third driver role, or his route of being on the track with a smaller team?”
“If I knew that it would be too easy.”

Serve and return, he bats my question aside with seeming ease, but undeterred I try again;
“These 3.5s have a lot of power…” I’d read this, more power even than Romain’s GP2 series car, from the credible MotorSport Magazine, “..would you like to have a go? Maybe show these guys how it’s really done?”
I see the beginning of a smile, maybe even a hint of light hearted laughter as he replies;
“No, I’m quite happy in GP2 and F1.”

With these deft answers I call it a day, wish him luck in Spa and leave him to pound along at a pace that honestly has me out of breath now entering the paddock. Our brief chat has covered nearly 500 yards. I tweet his replies as to remember them and begin to ponder his answers as I stroll through the paddock, open to all.

Romain showed true calm in a surprise situation, the sign of a seasoned pro and intelligent young man suddenly I have respect for him, he’s obviously handled far greater challenges than myself in ‘chat’ mode and I feel I did get some crumbs of knowledge out of the two lines I put to him.

Maybe I’m paying too much attention to the wording, but Grosjean left me with the impression that Formula Renault lacks credibility within the hierarchy of F1 when compared with GP2; which is odd given the amount of power and downforce the series spec chassis and engine combination provides.

What I do know is that GP2 shadows F1 around the world, often sharing the same pit and paddock all year long. Therefore Romain’s racing is in direct view of every F1 team boss first hand, not via a TV feed or recommendation. This combined with the odd demo and test day would be enough to stick in the mind of a team boss on the lookout for a new driver.

So on this same basis, Ricciardo has done well in Formula Renault 3.5, but has always been in a different country, therefore running him in a HRT is not only a test of his racecraft but puts him in direct view of Christian Horner and other teams.

The Magic of Twitter

Off the back of my musings with Romain’s comments I continue my stroll into the paddock and browse twitter to see if anyone of note has an interest in the weekend.

@PeterDWindsor: Amazing Atmosphere at WSR Silverstone. Posted 20 minutes ago.

I cheekily reply in hope that the great man may wave whilst on the big screen but I’m interrupted by noise from a nearby tented garage. The noise isn’t excessive but noticeable, like a party beginning to get into its stride. As it turns out its a few old friends; after having caught up bidding a fond farewell again, until next time. The man leaving is slim and lean, with a weighty looking sports bag in one hand he bounds down between the two cars now in parts flanking him.

His face is that of pure joy, his mind still reliving memories just discussed, but a man who is enjoying where he is and what he is doing, like a school boy fresh from the summer break eager to catch up with friends and tell tales, bright eyed and bushy tailed, with a brand new blazer. A SpeedTV jacket to be precise.

After a brief double take and rub of my eyes, I’ve found my second catch of the day, I clear my throat and lock eyes, thrusting my arm forward for a handshake before I’ve even begun a conversation.
“Peter? Peter Windsor?! Wow, Sorry, Hi…”

With a look of alarm Peter knew he wasn’t going to dodge me as Romain had managed, but as I introduced myself, he relaxed and his charming, enlightening and engaging conversation engulfed the next 5 minutes as the highlight of my weekend. We discussed the upcoming Speed.com programmes (available worldwide), the action happening round us, the hot shoes tipped for future stardom and the growing credibility Formula Renault 3.5 is gaining as a cost-effective, alternative route to F1 for young chargers!

I’m sure Peter made little hints at wanting to get on with his job, and I’m pretty sure i missed them all and held him up far too long (And if you read this Peter, I’m very sorry) but meeting such an open free-talking expert made my birthday trip to Silverstone well worthwhile.

Foot in Mouth over Hill.

Formula Renault 2.0 UK book ended the days and a portion of fans hadn’t arrived or had gone home early and therefore missed some great races and character building charges. Of note I was watching Oliver Rowland who is attached to McLaren but a certain helmet caught my eye as it flashed past. Hill, car 3. Very apt for the third generation of the Hill family, young Josh.

My talk with Josh was brief, I began by asking how his year had gone, Silverstone is third from last on the calendar and Josh seemed downbeat about the rest of the year. He was mature enough to itemise his weaknesses from the year and expressed that an improvement in qualifying was needed for next year along with general building of experience.

I was impressed with his maturity still further as I watched his races on Sunday. Unfortunately Josh had a string of bad luck, being pushed to the rear of the field on lap 1 of both races, but he had the grit and tenacity to pull back over 15 seconds (from my rough calculations with a wristwatch) to climb back up the grid and circulate the 6th fastest lap time.

If he can improve his qualifying and stay out of trouble on lap 1, Josh would be Top 5 material very quickly and with experience podiums would be more and more likely, definitely my one to watch from the weekend.

Unfortunately I end on a bit of a balls up. I was trying to convey to Josh that with Lewis and Button around doing so well, along with competition from fellow Brits doing well in the lower formula, he needn’t feel the pressure to graduate to F1 and emulate his forefathers success.

On a weekend that wasn’t going well, I really should have left that subject alone, and yet again in the aftermath of excitement should you bother to glance at this one day, Josh, I’m sorry, I do hope your silence was out of bemusement with my line of questioning and not me affecting your mindset.

F1; Go to Bahrain

There’s a huge amount of traffic on Twitter conversing about the ethical and political repercussions of hosting a race in Bahrain in 2011.

After having watched the Senna movie and taken many a beautiful phrase; one of which “F1 is too much politics”, I have to wonder where the ‘real racing’ is? Is it in go karts like Senna suggests? And are we resigned to this fact? Or as a fan base could we unite and keep the ‘real racing’ in the pinnacle of the sport?

Bahrain has had a lot of media coverage of late, since its rise from a dusty oil town, to a financial meltdown, and now it seems the entire nation rioting in the capital city clambering for equality or democracy or something, reportedly.

Ok, so ‘civil unrest’ is the big term thrown around. Well, we’ve encountered this before; does South Africa ring any bells? Well it shouldn’t, as its far removed from this scenario.

South Africa had an issue with Racism, on mass. This was rightly tackled head on at the time and later resolved. Bahrain’s wish for a regime change isn’t a global issue. The apparent wish reported by ‘media sources’ is based upon the Western belief that all Middle Eastern countries are backwards, neglected and dumb, oppressed by rich Sheikhs .

This belief is where the illusion falls flat, the people of Bahrain aren’t dissimilar from myself writing this on a second hand laptop or you reading this on a brand new iPad. We work long hours and pay bills and complain about the government, heck sometimes we even let the students riot to keep Cameron & co on their toes. But F1 never tells Silverstone it isn’t visiting this year, in fact it gave it a 20 year contract!

The Bahraini’s similarly have done all the same, paid taxes, worked hard, let a minority kick up some dust on Capitol Hill, and suddenly its “unstable” because the foreign reporters based there have got all excited over a few tanks rolling around the street. Throwing the words ‘warzone’ and ‘gunshots’ into a report; email to New York, and suddenly the big ‘S’ word comes into play, Safety.

Okay, I’m drifting, but let me put it very simply. What Bahrain is going through right now is no global issue when you compare other countries that hold races without any raised eyebrows or calls for F1 to make a “political statement”.

In 2001, America was unforgettably attacked and thousands murdered. Did we cancel their race? Nope.

Korea, is a country so messed up that its actually split in two and has extreme military presence along its entire “Berlin Wall”, do we cancel a race there? Nope, we build a brand new track and gleefully embrace it.

And China. Who for reasons you all know, I cannot accuse of anything. But there’s a heavy veil over China’s billion-strong population and every year this veil is lifted to allow in the world to see in a carefully controlled demonstration that it’s not all bad, and they are a jolly bunch capable of hosting an exciting race for the world to watch and admire.

So why are we making an example of Bahrain? Is it a warning shot to the bigger fish out there that F1 needs to fry?

Senna says F1 is too much politics. And here we are, 17 years on, and nothing has changed. How has F1 become this political tool? And how can we wrench our beloved sport from the hands of money grabbing politicians?

The answer, from what I know, is Go to Bahrain. Race, and show that nothing is wrong at all.

In the words of the over dramatic, the show must go on, so, ON WITH THE SHOW!

Battle of the Papercuts

So I put the phone down and yelled. “How on earth can they charge that much? It’s rather silly!” Okay, there were probably a few more words in there but I can’t write them down in a blog. I’m trying to get more racing in my life, short of reading the internet all day, and spending a fortune at the local kart track. So aside from the insane prices of £30 a month I’ve just been quoted for Satellite TV there’s only one option left.

Of this option, the old trusty hand held store bought magazine, are a few leading competitors. F1Racing, Autosport and MotorSport.

Autosport for my money seems a bit out of place. It holds a good cross section of news across most motorsports and is good for referencing or broadening the mind. But if you have the internet and access to autosport.com then the magazine falls flat, and the moment it rolls off the production line it’s out of date.

F1Racing is monthly with plenty of news, interviews, brief technical analysis and high quality photographs that many close followers of F1 already have a wide understanding and knowledge of. However for the more casual viewer who has no time to read blogs such as this, or much better ones, the magazine is a great break-time filler and supplement to their limited Sunday afternoon viewing.

MotorSport on the other hand, holds the main positive of Autosport, covering that wide cross section of motorsport. But instead of trying to give out news, bringing itself directly into competition with websites that are updated hourly, it focuses mainly on the opinion of high profile motorsport personalities.

Currently there roster includes Gordon Kirby, Rob Widdows, Patrick Head, and of course Nigel Roebuck; All of which have an uncanny way of seeing through the press releases, or explaining the true goings on in the background of various scenarios. Obviously opinion, is no good without supporting facts, and often leads to nostalgic tales from interviews with great historic figures such as Stirling Moss.

So, let’s have a run down.

If you’re well off, get the Satellite TV, Eurosport, MotorsTV, Sky Sports News should all keep you up to date.

If you don’t have internet and need to know everything about racing, get Autosport, it’s your bible.

If your casual you don’t really care about racing, you love the crashes, the DRS, KERs and you hate Alonso and glossy pictures, then F1Racing is your monthly one off buy.

If [like me] your totally hooked on racing, you read news websites and share opinion all day but you’ve got a few spare pounds at the end of a long month at work. Grab Motorsport, you might just learn something new.

Top 20 Great Drivers

When I ran this post via my sounding board, a man of over 30 years experience watching Motor racing across the world, including Monaco, Interlagos and Donnington, this was his response.

“What? No Kimi? It can’t be! What about Brundle? He beat Senna in F3 1983! And what about Lauda? Fittipaldi? Piquet? Vettel? Rob you can’t post this, you have to put one of the Schumacher’s in. And you can’t include Mike Hawthorn, you just can’t.”

So with a little tweaking, TheTyreWall as a collection of opinion has found its 20 most highly rated drivers of F1 from 1950 to 2010.

  1. Jim Clark  –  The Farmers Son
  2. Ayrton Senna  –  The Soul of Racing
  3. Stirling Moss  –  The Underdog
  4. J.M. Fangio  –  The Godfather
  5. Jackie Stewart  –  The Safety King
  6. M. Schumacher  –  The Stat King
  7. Gilles Villeneuve  –  The Potential
  8. Alain Prost  –  The Professor
  9. Fernando Alonso  –  The New Millenium Professor
  10. Lewis Hamilton  –  The Spitfire
  11. Alberto Ascari  –  The Maestro
  12. Graham Hill  –  The Pilot
  13. Phil Hill  –  The Gentleman
  14. Jack Brabham  –  The Team Owner
  15. John Surtees  –  A Knight of Wheels
  16. Jochen Rindt  –  The Lost Champion
  17. Alan Jones  –  The True AussieGrit
  18. Stefan Bellof  –  The Missing Champion
  19. Keke Rosberg  –  The Flying Finn
  20. James Hunt  –  The Playboy

Clark takes top spot for being the Farmers Son in a sport full of rich kids, and beating everyone. Moss get’s ahead of the Fangio because of his unflinching loyalty and morals. Stewart then pip’s Schuey to round out the top five on the ground of his safety work and the countless lives his work has indirectly saved.

Villeneuve is catapulted to 7th way ahead of a similar Bellof due to a few marvellous drives in circumstances always set against him. Alonso is ranked ahead of Hamilton who does make it to the top ten as I predict these two will be battling at the top for years to come.

Ascari was possibly the main catalyst in the growth and fanatical mentality of the tifosi, inbeing the last Italian World Champion. The Hill come in line astern, both gentlemen of their era and fine brave pilot’s, literally in Grahams case. Next the original and greatest owner/driver, followed by the only king of two and four wheels.

The final five is where a great many names hit the cutting room floor. No Mansell, Hakkinen, Piquet or Vettel. These final few to round off the grid show that it’s not just about the racing craft and skill that make a great F1 pilot. Sometimes it’s a youthful impatience, Bellof, or all out aggression, Jones. And sometimes it’s about failing to keep a safe distance from the glamour of the off track perks; not that I blame him.

How do you solve a problem like Felipe?

As the season begins, fans lay praise upon the Petrov fluke and write off Quick Nick and a Stick in the mud, the only issue worth talking about is the second Ferrari seat of 2012.

I’ve had a lot of mocking as I dared to hint at Quick Nick going toe to toe with Fernando next year, but let’s look at the options and situation overall.

Quick Nick is my prime candidate to take over. I feel if he can produce a good haul of points, scoring over 1/3 more than a resurgent Petrov , steal a win or a succession of podiums and maybe get ahead of Massa at some noticeable points of the year, he’d stand a chance.

Come 2012 he would be booted by Renault as they welcome back Kubica and if Ferrari wanted to replace a demoralised Massa Nick is the ONLY proven option when you consider, the Alonso Factor.

Select in your mind any driver on the current grid with over two years of experience, who would consider being Alonso’s wing man. Taking into consideration they’d be knowingly walking into Ferrari as the ‘other driver’, but would also need to have pace not to put the second Ferrari on the back end of the grid.

Unfortunately, the shortlist is very, very short. Aside from Heidfeld I can see two options.

Swapping Massa. His last year of contract needs to be honoured, but as ever he can be ‘placed’ somewhere else, much like we’ve seen in the past.

So how do you solve a problem like Felipe?

Sauber, a team he knows, a team who likes him, and more importantly a team who has KobayBASHi to send in return. Ticks a few boxes, but would KobayBASHi be ok next to Alonso? With no Japanese manufacturers, I think so.

Toro Rosso? Well their Italian, they run Ferrari Engines and there after money. They wouldn’t mind playing host to Massa and giving rising star Ricciardo a competitive yard stick to race against.

Buemi and Alguersuari have struggled to prove themselves against each other. But again, having one of the drivers to send back the other way is a bonus. Jaime is still young and if he bode his time learning at Alonso’s knee and polishing his shoes, he could have a shot in the future.

The last, final, desperate option, is to keep a very unhappy, demoralised off-form Massa and watch a championship winning car trundle round in 6th place.

The Complete F1 Season 1961

Last week there was discussion about the greatest ever racing year in history. Of course anyone under ten loves 2008 and Hamilton. Teenagers tend to like Kimi Raikkonnen and therefore are ignoring F1 for the next few years. Girls coo over retro images of James Hunt and men will argue about Moss, Clark, Senna, Prost and a few select others until the bar is drank dry. So naively and with no real insight, I’m bucking the trend; The most Complete season ever, 1961, the year of Phil Hill, the first American World Champion.

Phil; I feel, wouldn’t be at home in the modern day F1 where drivers can barely breathe for interviewers and engineers quiziing them out of the car. The last I heard of him visiting a GP was at Monza in ’06 as a guest of Ferrari. Hill quietly arrived watched the race and Schumacher’s [first] retirement, talked with Jean Todt then of Ferrari and walked away, never to return. A quiet dignified man, who’s battle with illness in his last few years robbed the world of a true gentleman, a true racer.

1961 then was possibly the year of his career, not only winning both Drivers and Constructors titles with Ferrari but also sparing time to win Ferrari the 24hr Le Mans aswell, a feat that will not be mimicked by Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa.

So ends the limited knowledge of 1961 I have. Why do I love 1961? Because Hill let his racing do the talking, even Senna couldn’t manage that.

So let’s delve deeper. The story of the season is a three way battle. Hills competition consisted of Count Wolfgang Von Trips, his team-mate at a 3 car Ferrari, & Stirling Moss, now a Knight and then driving a woefully underpowered but comically named Coventry Climax.

Even at the opening season race in Monaco which Moss won, Ferrari where clearly fastest. Von Trips and Hill then traded the top spot until Stirling Moss again used exquisite skill and flair to beat a massive 40hp deficit in a dry/wet race at the old full Nurburgring. (Which sadly proved to be Moss’ last but possibly greatest victory in a F1 car.)

Within this Title battle, which as we all know ended in the most cruel circumstances at Monza, Ferrari’s home GP with the death of Von Trips and several spectators. Within this year nests two tales to show the brilliance and humanity of F1 even in these desperate and dark times.

The French GP was the one race that gave the also-rans of 1961 some hope. In France each of the three supremo’s had issues, including Hill and Moss colliding. And so, on his F1 championship debut driving the supreme Ferrari of a private entry, Italy no doubt went wild for the then young Italian, Giancarlo Baghetti who remains to this day, 50 years on, the only man to have won his very first F1 Grand Prix.

The season ended a race early for Ferrari. Supported by the fact both titles were decidedbut mainly out of respect for Von Trips and the crowd members Ferrari withdrew from the final round held in the USA. A deeply honourable gesture, and I can only remember one other gesture to match it. Again Ferrari, this time at the 2001 Monza GP, where they removed all sponsors and ran with black nose cones in respect of the Twin Towers disaster in America.

This respect and passion not only for racing but for life too is why the Italian still hold Gilles Villeneuve as a Prince of their hearts, but its also why when any driver receives a phonecall from the Scuderia, they don’t say ‘No, thanks’.

So 1961 had it all it seems. Drives of a lifetime from Moss. Records set by Baghetti. The Honourable Ferrari. Sadness and despair, not only with Von Trips but with others I’m shamefully remise to mention. And the glory of the victors, and lmost overlook that first humble American F1 Champion of the World.