Sunday, March 12, 2006


Whiffs Of Nostalgia, Sentiment And Burning Rubber

When my alarm went off this afternoon, I was awoken to the sound of David Croft commenting on Fernando Alonso winning the Bahrainian Grand Prix. I was, I have to say, somewhat surprised - I didn't realise the season had started.

When I was a wee nipper, I used to love Formula One. As little as two years ago, I went to the Belgian GP on a Page & Moy package, and it was great fun. However, Schumacher constantly winning put me off the sport. Of course, last season, he didn't, and Alonso constantly won instead, which was hardly an improvement, so I became bored and gave up.

A glance at the ITV F1 website reveals that I don't even recognise half the teams. There are about four new names, but, depressingly, still nearly the same number - it's noticeable that all the rule changes to get more teams involved have been more or less of a complete waste. Worse, my beloved Minardi have vanished, being replaced by a 'B' team. Have they no shame?

It's a long time since the racing I remember of just over a decade ago. Without wishing to sound ridiculously sentimental, those were, indeed, the days. The majority of the teams were run by individual enterpreneurs out of a love of the sport, not by massive car manufacturers as a way to give shareholders a nice weekend out.

I appreciate that this is becoming embarassingly mawkish, but even the names of those teams spoke of a certain magic and romance - Footwork, Larrousse, Ligier, Tyrrell, Simtek, Pacific, Leyton House. By contrast, this year, two of the teams are named 'Red Bull.' Even the schemes of the cars were influenced less by sponsor demand - or so it seemed, anyway, though who knows? - and looked like they had actually been designed, rather than excreted.

The late '80s and early '90s saw lots and lots of new teams spawning all the time, mostly to collapse or change names and owners almost immediately afterwards. The real problem with Formula One these days is that almost everyone involved in the sport is missing the point - all of the teams, even the ones at the bottom of the grid, are professional outfits run by people who really know what they are doing, with vast amounts of money behind them. In the days of yore, the teams at the bottom were run by a motley assortment of garage mechanics and shoe salesmen who had precisely no idea how to run a business, and even less a racing team.

They even had pre-qualifying. That was great, that was, when a few of the teams didn't even qualify for the qualifying. The cars were also usually driven by guys who, to be charitable, were hardly Schumachers - who remembers Pedro Chaves, Perry McCarthy, Eric van de Poele, JJ Lehto, Paul Belmondo, Taki Inoue, and perhaps the best of all, Roberto Moreno, who, to quote the wonderful F1 Rejects site, on its page about the most hopeless of all the hopeless teams, Andrea Moda, would 'drive a wheelie bin if it was offered to him?'

The coverage of the races forgets these facts. Yes, a large part of the problem with Formula One is that we lack the days of Championships going down to the wire, of cars so similar in performance that it sometimes went down to the last few laps at Adelaide (let's forget 1992 in all this!). Oh, and by the way, whatever happened to Adelaide? Far more interesting than Melbourne. Similarly, in what way does the modern Indianapolis track compare to the old Phoenix street-race? Back to the point; that may be a large part of the problem, but I also miss the soap opera - the hopeless teams, the pre-qualifying, the drivers who bought their way into the sport with sponsorship or hard cash (my mate once drove Pedro Diniz to the paddock at Silverstone!). The only way to get all this back is to make it genuinely easy again to set up a team and get involved. Here's to hoping it happens again.


Mark Holland was watching the race, and has thoughts.

Can I just say I share your concerns! I used to love Grand Prix as a lad. Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost. All great stuff. But then recently whole years have gone by without me taking much notice at all.

Can I just put in a good word for Schumacher and Ferrari though. Yes they won 5 world champhionships in a row or whatever it was but that was after 20 years in the doldrums where they kept plugging away and considered themselves to have had a good season if somehow Gerhard Berger managed to "fluke" the win at Monza. Same for Schumi, he was world champion twice with Benneton and could easily have gone to whomever had the best car in a given year. Instead he went to Ferrari and sacrificed 4 potential years where he could have been champ in an effort to help restore Ferrari to greatness. (Admittedly one of those was when he broke his leg at Silverstone and Eddie Irvine nearly took the championship.) Then he did but a bit too sucessfully!!! You can't blame them for being head and shoulders above the competition!

That said, F1 is a business and that business is supposed to provide the fastest men in the fastest men battling wheel to wheel. If the viewers prefer to see the battling then they've got to hobble to the best to make the playing field more even.
i heart the minardi as well!!
i'll not forget when mark webber finished 4th or something in the australian grand prix and paul stoddart (sp?) went mental down the pit lane. It was funnier because he was normally such a gloomy guy and he used to talk to the ITV lot all the time because it just didn't matter if he told them a race plan.

F1 started to go downhill for me when they got rid of the good qualifying sessions. Those were often more entertaining than the races. The sheer joy I derived from seeing Michael Schumacher caning the last lap of the session only to get held up by a minardi and for someone else to snatch pole.
Scaletrix is far more fun. You can crash the cars and do loop the loops with little human casualty. Except perhaps a younger cousin who swallowed a piece of track.

Formula One was all about Murray Walker. Martin Brundle will never make cars going round and round endlessly as exciting, not in a bajillion years.

And it's perhaps rose-tinted hindsight that says that F1 was more competitive in the early nineties... I just remember Senna winning everything, then Mansell winning everything, including something stupid like 11 races out of 16 in 1992. At one point a Raggy Doll could have won in a Williams car.

I do miss JJ Lehto though. Last time I heard he was racing Touring Cars and not being that great in them, either.
Mark - Schumi is, undoubtedly in my mind, the best racing driver ever to have lived. I don't begrudge him winning when the best, but at the same time I'm not going to pretend to find it particularly interesting if he does.

Matty - I remember that! I used to really like Paul Stoddard - to buy a team you kow has no chance of even scoring points, and barely any chance of moving off the back of the grid, and put as much effort as he did into it is worthy of praise indeed.

I agree with you about the qualifying - before, it was all tactics in when people left the pit lane, and as you say, there was always the danger that you'd be trapped behind Jos Verstappen trundling slowly. Frankly, I'd go further, as I said, back to the days of pre-qualifying and then two sessions, taking your best time from either session. Trouble is, they need more teams for that.

Boudica - I am, though I say so myself, a particularly good Scalectrix controller. I used to love doing that when I were nowt but knee-high to a grasshopper.

Paul - With the excpetions of '91 and '92, the years '88 - '94 were all really close. By contrast, in the last six seasons, '99 - '05, only a couple have even been contested to within the last three races.

I wholeheartedly agree with you about Murray Walker, by the way. He was a large part of the magic.
F1 has always been rubbish. Wouldn't get too nostalgic about it. There were people in the fifties who thought the racing wasn't a patch on the pre-war days etc.......

It was maybe a little more interesting back in the early nineties, but not by much.
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