Monday, September 17, 2012

Where Are The Fighting Spirits?

"Slow down, Lewis"- "Push harder, Kimi" - "Don't overtake him,
Kamui" - "We'll undercut him in the pits, Checo". The insistent 
voices of the 'driving instructors' in their headsets are turning 
today's F1 stars into remote-controlled robots and robbing the sport 
of a vital dimension in which fighting spirits are able to flourish.  

Surely trying to overtake a car in front should be a basic
instinct for every driver in every race, but the current climate
of caution actively discourages aggressive all-out attacking and
strives to bully even the hardcore racers into submission. Yes,
there is more overtaking than ever - especially since a quarter
of the teams are ill-equipped to fight off the advances of their
richer rivals - but instead of relying on a driver's fighting
spirit the vast majority of passing manouevres are now the product 
of APE (Artificial Performance Enhancers) such as DRS, KERS and 
tyres deliberately designed to degrade. 

Moreover, rather than leave the drivers to their own devices the
bossy team strategists issue stern radio commands instructing the
drivers where, when and how to use them. Some of these 'team
orders' are a reflection of the embarrassing depths of spectacle-
denying conservatism into which the sport has descended: Why does
natural-born speedster Raikkonen ever need to be told to pick up
the pace? Does former champion overtaking tryer Hamilton really
need a voice in his helmet to tell him its OK, or not, to pass the car
in front? Why not give thrilling risk-takers like Kobayashi the freedom
to fully engage in the cut and thrust they love?

The pushy puppeteers who pull the drivers' strings from the
computer-controlled perspective of the 'Prats Perch' along the
pit wall constantly strive to curb the enthusiasm of the real
racers in the field. Today's climate of middle-of-the-road
moderation, which encourages a safe but sure approach, means
drivers can more easily stay within their comfort zones. As a
result the majority are more likely to set their minds in cruise 
control and become passive to the point that they are unable to 
summon up the sheer force of will that personifies a fighting spirit. 

Very few current drivers are notable for demonstrating the 
fearsomely forceful mindset that made heroes of some of their 
predecessors. A classic example was the renowned daredevil Gilles 
Villeneuve, whose primitive 'rage to win' meant he never stopped 
pushing as hard as he could on every lap, even in practice.

Nigel Mansell was another driver with a tremendous fighting
spirit. Hugely determined, immensely aggressive and
breathtakingly brave, he was one of the most exciting drivers
ever. Mansell was a driven man and it showed. His take-no-
prisoners philosophy was elemental: drive as hard as you can all
the time.  

No driver tried harder or pushed himself further in pursuit of
the extremes to which only the greatest drivers go than Ayrton
Senna, whose constant search to extend his personal limits, to go
faster than himself, let alone his rivals, were there for all to
see. The spectre of Senna's yellow helmet looming up their
mirrors was often enough to persuade his more submissive peers to
immediately get out of his way. 

It's much harder to see today's fighting spirits, but a shortlist
of those with real racer inclinations reminiscent of past masters
would likely only comprise about a third of the current grid. 

Grand Prix Photo
Spot The Fighting Spirits (grandprixphoto)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sid Watkins

Professor Sidney Watkins, who has died at 84, was one of the most
respected, influential and humane people in the F1 hierarchy. Few
contributed more to the sport in matters of safety and his efforts
undoubtedly saved many lives, though sometimes there was nothing
he could do. He was a close friend of Ayrton Senna, whose death along
with Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994 was the worst weekend in
Sid's life. Despite the serious nature of his profession Sid was a very warm
and funny man and everyone who knew him will remember the generosity
of his spirit and his sense of humour. I once encountered him in a hotel
fitness centre where he was kicking up a storm on a treadmill while puffing
energetically on a fat cigar. Another time, on a longhaul flight,I was wandering
around unable to sleep when Sid offered me a prescription he said would cure
insomnia. It was a generous slug from a bottle of fine malt whisky he always
carried in his medical bag. Sid wrote two volumes of memoirs which should
be read by every F1 enthusiast.

The following profile, which appeared in my book Grand Prix People
(written in 1990) gives an impression of what Sid did and what he was like...

Sid: "I make a lot of jokes about the fact that as a neurosurgeon I
should hardly be required at a motor race because the drivers
don't have any brains, otherwise they wouldn't race!"

Professor Sidney Watkins is a neurosurgeon at the London Hospital
where he is head of the academic unit which deals with the whole
spectrum of brain disorders and injuries. He is also President of
the FIA Medical Commission, Formula 1 Medical Inspector and,
unofficially, the "family doctor" for everyone in the Grand Prix
circus, treating any aches and pains that may crop up on a race
weekend. He has been to every event since the Swedish Grand Prix
of 1978, on call to perform his most important function: attending
drivers who have been injured.

"To be serious, most of the drivers are very accomplished people
in terms of perceptual skill.  And I admire their capability to
control the machines as they do.  They have highly tuned sensory
skills, and obviously highly tuned motor ones too, to be able to
drive the machines.  But from the point of view of a neurologist,
they've got excellent computers up there, for doing what they're
doing.  And I like most of their personalities."

"One of the interesting aspects of my presence at the races is
that the drivers who know me, like to see the father figure
arriving and to know that I'm around.  And that I think has
helped a lot, because in the circumstances of a big accident it's
sometimes hard for the driver to know who's actually trying to
help him. Often the drivers don't really know who is trying to do
what to them, and they're anxious that they don't get injured
further than they already are. So, there's a fair amount of
anxiety and tension around the situation at that stage, and my
presence seems to help control it.

"The racing is getting safer, but there's always a possibility,
that something terrible will happen. It's always upsetting, and
that applies to all of them, even the people who have been
injured savagely but have not died. I'm always sad and upset when
they do get hurt, or worse. I remember when I first met Gilles
Villeneuve, he said, 'Prof, I hope I'm never going to need you.'
Then, of course, when I got to his accident at Zolder in 1982 his
injuries were such that he didn't need me. And that made me very

"I suppose you could develop an argument that there's a conflict
of interest for a doctor, dedicated to saving lives, to be in a
sport that can take them. But if you believe in free will, as I
do, then I think it's up to anybody to do what they need to do in
life, and to recognize that there are dangers, and at times there
are serious dangers. Besides, there's hardly a sport that isn't
dangerous, except perhaps snooker or something like that.  But
the physical sports, the contact sports, all have their injuries
and their fatalities from time to time.

When he was a boy Sid Watkins spent a lot of time in his father's
garage in Liverpool, often driving cars around the property
before he was licensed to do so. He became interested in the
competition possibilities of cars after the war, though his goal
in life had always been to become a medical practitioner. He
served for two years as a British army doctor in West Africa,
then trained in general and orthopedic surgery to become a
neurosurgeon. While working at Oxford the proximity of
Silverstone beckoned and his "obsession" with motor sport began.
He became a medical officer at club events, then moved to
Syracuse University in America, where he also headed the medical
team at the nearest circuit, Watkins Glen, for several years.
Returning to England in 1970, he joined the medical panel of the
RAC where Bernie Ecclestone was impressed with his work. When
Ecclestone asked Watkins to coordinate the medical side of Grand
Prix racing, the doctor was only too happy to oblige.

At each circuit Professor Watkins first checks that everything in
the medical centre is in order, the intervention vehicles and the
rescue helicopter are ready to go and the medical personnel are
in place. Then, prior to the cars going on to the track, he takes
up his station at the end of pit lane, sitting in a high speed
intervention vehicle in his flameproof suit, helmet in hand. He
remains there throughout practice and qualifying, keeping in
touch with developments by radio and ready to spring into action.
At the start of the race Watkins speeds into the wake of the
storm, following the cars around on the first lap.
"You have to make rather quick decisions as to whether or not you
need to stop when you see an accident.  I suppose that's the most
difficult part of it, really.  But with regard to the confusion
of the start, and the chaotic pattern that many of the cars
produce as they leave, with bits of this and that flying around,
and the speed, I think, as I've done so much of it, I no longer
get involved in that aspect of it.  I ignore all that part of it,
and I'm looking for the accidents. If there is an accident, I try
to make the right decision as quickly as possible, whether to
stop or push on.

"The high point for me is at the end, when there hasn't been an
accident and nobody's been hurt. And I get back in the hotel
room, and have a shot of whisky and a shower, and then I'm always
hungry, ready for a decent meal. I do keep away from most of the
Grand Prix social life.  I also disassociate myself from any
particular relationship with any particular team. And I'm usually
to be found hanging around the circuit, rather than in a motor

     "While I don't participate in any of it to any degree, I think
it's a very interesting and glamorous scene. I think until you've
seen the inside of it, you have no idea actually what goes on in
Formula 1 motor racing. It's a meeting of a large number of minds
at all sorts of levels in society, even to the giants of
industry, and a fair amount of wheeling and dealing goes on in
the background.  It's almost as if the sport were riding on the
back of the entertainment and a huge business system with a lot
of corporate decisions being made."

Professor Watkins vows he will stay in the Grand Prix circus until
he is "superfluous, extraneous, or perhaps a bit geriatric." When
that happens Watkins, the enthusiast, will still watch the races
on television. But Watkins, the neurosurgeon, prefers to be on
the spot and admits that a large part of his fascination is with the
specimens he observes there.

"They're all very bright people, and they are very dedicated. I
only do this job outside my professional life, and they are
utterly immersed in it the whole of their time.  They are
extremely singleminded.  And I've always found them absolutely
logical to deal with.  We don't get any hysterics, we don't get
any nonsense. They're exceptional people."

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Viva Italia

The Pista Magica...

The Gran Premio D'Italia is without doubt the favourite
destination on the global F1 tour. Italy has it all - attractive,
passionate people with an infectious enthusiasm for life, a
beautiful language, an outstanding cuisine, a deep love for the
most famous racing team in the world and much more - and it all
contributes to the glorious ambience at the Autodromo Nazionale
Di Monza.

Italy's shrine of speed - the Pista Magica - in the midst of the
heavily forested Parco Di Monza has an all-pervading mystique, an
eerie aura magnified when the hallowed ribbon of ashphalt is
bathed in a golden haze of early autumn. It is a place of myth
and legend that inspires a tingling in the spine, a stirring of
the soul. At the Prima Variante, the Curva Grande, the Curva di
Lesmo, the Parabolica, all around Monza the experience of
watching F1 cars creating more history and drama where so much
has already taken place cannot be duplicated anywhere else.

Among The Tifosi...

The boisterous bedlam of the colourfully dressed Italian tifosi -
the fanatical Ferrari-worshipping fans - is a source of
entertainment in itself. Their collective enthusiasm serves to
raise the excitement level to fever pitch and even the drivers of
other teams admit being moved to try harder in response to the
wild cheering and frantic waving of banners and flags at Monza.
Sometimes, especially when the Ferraris are frontrunners, the
joyous uproar made by the tifosi overpowers the noise of the F1

The tifosi come in all shapes and sizes, and in whole
families...The two little boys wear immaculately tailored red
driving suits, faithfully reproduced to be exactly like those
worn by Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. In one hand their
mother has a big red umbrella decorated with the Ferrari name and
the yellow and black prancing horse insignia and in the other
hand she carries a large red Ferrari bag, bulging with a loaf of
bread, a bottle of Chianti wine and the other ingredients of a
picnic lunch. Her husband wears a red Ferrari cap and has a big
red Ferrari banner wrapped around his shoulders.

The family stands among the throngs of tifosi crowded up against
the fences bordering the Monza circuit. Each time 'their' cars
howl past their vantage point the little boys shriek and dance
with glee, their mother beams her approval and cheers, their
father waves his banner and shouts "Forza Ferrari!".

The Tifosi At Monza (grandprixphoto)

Watch Fernando's Ferrari fly at Monza...


Friday, September 07, 2012

Forza Ferrari

"Ferrari is a disease," according to Scuderia Ferrari President
Luca di Montezemolo, "a nasty, contagious illness. This is the
most prestigious, the best known racing team in the world. For
our fans Ferrari amounts to a sort of inebriation. Ferrari is so
special because it provides such great emotion."

A main reason why Ferrari is the most famous name in racing is
because fans can so readily sense their own emotion and passion
for the sport reflected in the screaming crimson cars from Maranello.
It's as if Ferraris were created to make the whole concept of racing
come alive. And they were, by the team founder Enzo Ferrari, who
was born on February 18, 1898, just after the history of motor sport
began. No other individual contributed more to that history. His
grand passion began one day in 1908 when his father brought him
to see the great Felice Nazarro win in a Fiat at nearby Bologna.
Enzo Ferrari: "That day I felt a profound emotion."

His origins were humble and he had only seven years of formal
schooling. During World War One his lowly position in the Italian
army was that of caretaker for a pack of mules in a transport
section. He was devastated by the deaths of his older brother
Alfredo and his father during the war years and was himself
discharged in 1918 with a lung ailment. He applied for a job with
Fiat in Torino but was rejected because there were not enough
jobs for all the returning war veterans. He went to a park and
sat on a bench where: "I wept with loneliness and despair."

He eventually found work as a test driver with a small car-
manufacturing concern in Milano, CMN, and even did some racing
for them. Ferrari then was hired by Alfa Romeo, for whom he acted
as a car distributor, competition manager, and, as a weekend
bonus, racing driver. In the latter pursuit he competed forty-
seven times (from 1919 to 1931) and won thirteen events. It was a
quite respectable record but Ferrari felt his mechanical sympathy
was a limitation. "I had one big fault. I drove always with
consideration for the car, whereas to be successful, one must on
occasion be prepared to ill-treat it."

At one of Enzo Ferrari's race wins, near Ravenna in 1923, he was
introduced to the parents of Italy's leading fighter pilot in the
war, Francesco Baracca. His plane had been decorated with a
special insignia, Il Cavallino Rampante, The Prancing Horse, on a
shield and Baracca's daring exploits in the air had made it a
symbol of courage and audacity. It turned out that the late
Alfredo Ferrari had served on the ground crew of the same wartime
squadron and after the Ravennna race the Baraccas befriended
Alfredo's younger brother. They presented Enzo with their son's
insignia for his personal use. When he established his own racing
team in 1930, the Scuderia Ferrari, Enzo added a yellow
background (the official colour of Modena) to the black horse on
the shield and his cars have carried it ever since.
Il Cavallino Rampante, The Prancing Horse

Following the birth of their son Dino in 1932 Enzo fulfilled a
promise to his wife Laura and stepped out of the driver's seat to
mastermind his team, and the Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeos became
the powerhouse of racing in Europe in the early thirties. Ferrari's
arrangement with Alfa Romeo ended in 1938 and during the ensuing
war years he built machinery to make ball bearings. His workshop in
Modena survived two bombings and in 1946 he moved his premises
down the road to Maranello to take up racing on his own. That it soon
became a thriving enterprise was only a secondary benefit for Ferrari,
who said: "I race because I am an enthusiast. Others do it as a business."

The first all-Ferrari single seater car, the 125 V12, became successful
in the hands of drivers like Alberto Ascari and Luigi Villoresi in the
late 1940s. Ferrari sports cars first won the epic Mille Miglia and
Targa Florio races held on public roads in Italy in 1948 and the
historic Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in France the next year.
Ferrari began producing road cars based on his racing machines and
they soon became the most desirable vehicles for wealthy automotive
enthusiasts and exotic status symbols for the rich and famous.

For Enzo Ferrari his 'civilian' cars were simply a by-product of
his competition department, and racing, especially single-seater
cars, remained his first love. When the Formula 1 world
championship was formally organized in 1950 it became his main
interest. Although Ferraris won races in nearly every category of
road racing, it was putting his cars to the F1 test that mattered
most to the founder of the team. Here too, Ferraris were the most
successful cars, but in later years the man behind the name hardly
ever saw them race in person. He restricted himself to watching the
events on television because, he wrote, 'It offends me to see the
machines I have created being driven to death.'

However, many people thought his absence from the circuits was
prompted by Ferrari's profound sorrow over the cruel death of his
son Dino from muscular dystrophy in 1956. The grieving father
even contemplated suicide: "Work was my only salvation, the
anchor I had to grasp in order not to find myself adrift."
Following Dino's funeral Ferrari began every day with a visit
alone to his grave, then said prayers for him in a chapel
dedicated to his son's memory. When his wife Laura died Ferrari
became closer to his illegitimate son, Piero Lardi Ferrari, who
is now head of the company.

Enzo Ferrari was accused of being a hard man who care more for
his machines than his drivers, several of whom died in Ferraris.                                                              
Yet when his favourite driver Gilles Villeneuve was killed,
Ferrari said "I loved him like a son."                                                                                

Ferrari and his favourite driver Villeneuve (La Gazzetta dello Sport)

In 1963 Ford tried to buy Ferrari, but he refused to sell to the
Americans. Then, in 1969, Fiat, the Italian state-owned
conglomerate, bought a controlling interest in Ferrari, leaving
Enzo in charge of motor racing and he was able to devote himself
exclusively to the Scuderia. He was in his office each morning by
7:30 and (even at the age of ninety) knew each of his employees
in the racing division (200 of them before his death) by name.
A win in an F1 race was "like a blood transfusion for Mr.
Ferrari," said one of his drivers Gerhard Berger, and his passion
for the sport undoubtedly prolonged his life. Enzo Ferrari died
on 14 August, 1988.

"I have known men who have undoubtedly loved cars as much
as I have," Ferrari wrote. "But I don't think I've known any who
have been as obstinate as I have, motivated by the same
wholehearted passion that has left me without either the time or
the inclination to do anything else. I have no other interests
apart from racing cars. Whoever follows in my footsteps inherits
a very simple doctrine: to keep alive the desire for progress
which was pursued in the past, pursued at the expense of noble
human lives."

-excerpt from Gilles Villeneuve, The Life Of The Legendary Racing
Driver (by Gerald Donaldson)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Jochen Rindt


The Only Posthumous F1 World Champion

On September 5, 1970, Jochen Rindt was killed during practice for
the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. In the two remaining races of this deadly
season no other driver was able to overtake him in the standings and the
Austrian became the only posthumous F1 World Champion.

Rindt's Lotus 72 crashed when one of its inboard front brake shafts
snapped as he was approaching Monza's Parabolica corner at nearly 200mph...

HEINZ PRULLER (journalist and friend of Rindt): "Bernie
Ecclestone, Jochen's friend and manager, started running. He ran
so quickly that he reached the Parabolica before the much younger
mechanic, Eddie Dennis. He wanted to go to Jochen's assistance
and he believed that this was the time to take a look at the car.

"In the meantime they had got Jochen out of the car. Bernie
picked up the white helmet, one shoe and - on the right-hand side
of the road - a wheel with parts of the suspension, which he
passed on to Eddie to put by the car. The Lotus was stuck in the
sand, five yards from the crash barrier and five yards from the

COLIN CHAPMAN (Lotus founder and team leader): "Oh God,
not another one."

JACKIE STEWART (Rindt's friend and rival):"As I put on my helmet,
the tears started rolling. I went back into the pit in order to regain
control over myself; then I climbed into the car. While the mechanics
strapped me in, I started crying again. I tasted salt. I sat there and
people tried not to look at me and I knew there was nothing I could
do to stop the crying, so I went out. And as soon as I got going, the
crying stopped. I was all right. When I got to the Parabolica, I went
around slowly,searching for the marks where Jochen went off. I ran
four laps and my last lap was the fastest I had ever done Monza, and the
fastest I was to do that weekend. It will be said I was trying to hurt myself,
that it was suicidal, but it wasn't. It felt the same as any other lap.

"I finished second in the race and felt completely empty, drained
and exhausted as all the pressures of the past two days collapsed.
I felt capable of nothing and absolutely lost."

HERBIE BLASH (Lotus mechanic, now an FIA executive): "Chapman
shot off immediately. Just went. Nina Rindt was at home in
Switzerland, so we had to get Jochen's belongings back up to her
at Begnins. When I arrived at Geneva there were banner headlines
in German, 'Jochen Rindt Killed.'  As I drove up to the house,
Nina was at the bedroom window and waved like mad. I can imagine
now that it was as if it was Jochen coming home, although of
course it couldn't have been.

"There was nobody else in the room, just Sally Courage (whose
husband Piers was killed earlier that year) and Nina. There I
was, sitting on the settee between these two widows. What can
you say in a situation like that?

"All of a sudden, Natasha (Rindt), who was six and upstairs,
cried out, 'Papa, Papa.' Both girls burst into tears, and there I
am, 21 years old and not knowing what life's about, with one arm
round Sally Courage and the other round Nina Rindt."

HEINZ PRULLER: "Ferrari's Jacky Ickx, runner-up to Jochen,
composed a much discussed 'Adieu to Jochen Rindt' with his father
(a former sports writer) and ended it with these words..."

JACKY ICKX: 'I would like to add - as I consider it important -
that Jochen Rindt died a happy man. When, after four years of
courage and disappointment, success in Grand Prix racing finally
came to him, he became a different person. At the moment when he
climbed into his car for the last time he was particularly happy.
He had the looks and manners of a contented man.

'There can be little doubt that he remained happy until the very
moment of his accident, for we drivers are always happy behind
the wheel. The two seconds of the final drama cannot have changed
things, for there is something passionate about fighting a car
that has gone mad. Rindt would not have had even one second of
fear (the excitement only comes later) and he would not have

'And even if one can talk of an untimely death, all I can say is
that the duration of a life should not be measured in days or
hours, but by that which we achieve during the time given to us.
There isn't a single one of us who hasn't left his hotel room in
the morning well aware that he may not return, but this does not
prevent us from achieving complete happiness.

'On the contrary, perhaps it enables us to be all the more so.
The knowledge that everything could finish before the end of the
day enables us to enjoy the wonders of life and all that
surrounds it all the more.'

- excerpt from F1 The Autobiography (edited by f1speedwriter,
1970s contributed by David Tremayne)

Profile of Jochen Rindt by f1speedwriter in Hall of Fame