The Sport Of Heroes

The Sport Of Heroes

What do I really think of Formula One?

I remember when I first watched a Grand Prix. It was the Hungarian race at the

Hungaroring in 1995. It was towards the end of the season, and everyone was hyped at the Schumacher vs. Hill battle. I can remember Hill putting a classic move on Schumacher going into the slow chicane, and thinking, “Wow! Why has it taken me this long to discover F1?”.

I remember a little about the Pacific Grand Prix, held at Aida in Japan. This was the race where I noted all the drivers and teams from Murray Walker’s commentary. I can remember trying to spell some of the foreign drivers’ names – Takachiho Inoue, Domenico Schiattarella, Massimiliano Papis etc…

My next vivid memory is the Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide in the same year. It was the last Grand Prix of the year, and everyone was talking about what happened the year previous when Michael Schumacher clouted Damon Hill and won the Championship in rather contentious circumstances. All the talking stopped though when Mika Hakkinen crashed very heavily during the warm-up session. His belts stretched and he smashed his face into the steering wheel. I can still remember the pictures of him sitting motionless in the car with blood all over the inside of his visor. It made me feel very sick. Mika ended up in a coma for a day. From this serious incident though, came one of the most moving things I have known to happen in Formula One.

Ron Dennis (Team Principal at McLaren, whom Mika raced for) visited Mika in hospital and promised him that he will be driving a McLaren next season, and that he will eventually win the title in a McLaren.

That kind of loyalty to a driver (and vice versa – driver to team) is incredible, and I have not really seen it since with the one exception of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.

And as Ron Dennis promised, Mika was testing a McLaren prior to the 1996 season and was setting blistering lap times.

A year later at the end of the 1997 season, Mika won his first race at Jerez, and then took the 1998 and 1999 world titles – a truly exceptional driver, and a truly exceptional team.

Although it has to be said, that this story is a rarity. Generally, the business of motor racing is more ‘cut-throat’. The Button-gate saga in 2004 saddened me. I still don’t understand why a driver who was scoring regular podiums and on the verge of winning a teams (and his own) first race would want to leave. I remember how Damon Hill was mortified at ‘losing’ the 1997 Hungarian Grand Prix in the Arrows (it would have been their first victory in Lord knows how many years of competing), and his elation of scoring Jordan’s first win at Spa Francorchamps in 1998.

For sure, Button went to BAR because it wasn’t working at Benetton/Renault. And he needed a drive to fill the gap before a seat became available at Williams. But Jenson has had a big impact on BAR, and the team has gone from strength to strength with him.

BAR’s 2004 season was so amazing and brilliant, I just can’t comprehend why anyone would want to leave it behind. Jenson said that he wants to win the title, and will drive for any team that will enable him to do this. In 2004, BAR comprehensively beat Williams, finishing only second to Ferrari in the Constructors Championship. Okay, so Montoya won a race for Williams in the final meeting, but Button looked sure to win a race all season, or at least in the season just passed.

I think that because of the shenanigans that took place mid 2004, the team lost a bit of momentum and morale. I think that this has hurt the development of the 2005 car, and that is one reason why they did not do well last year. The race ban that happened after Imola also plagued them a little. Jenson and Takuma had their points taken away from them at Imola, and Jenson only just managed to claw them back before the season finale.

The reason why I have discussed the Button-gate saga is make a comparison between this and the Hakkinen incident. There are many highs in Formula One. Some of them are instantaneous (like victories), and some come from pain and grief. There are also many lows. Some of these are also instantaneous, like the 2005 US Grand Prix, and others are dragged out like the Button-gate issue, or the sad loss of Ayrten Senna in 1994. The resulting court case has only recently been closed, clearing those involved – thankfully.

So back to my question: What do I really think of Formula One?

A very passionate sport employing incredibly passionate people. A sport with immense heritage and prestige, that invites relentless pursuit of that elusive tenth-of-a-second, in order to gain a minute advantage over a rival. I often hear that horse racing is the sport of Kings. If that is the case, than motorsport is the sport of Heroes.

I think that the thrill of driving vehicles around a track at ridiculously insane speeds will never cease. People will always want to participate and/or watch a death-defying act or sport.

The FIA need to listen to the fans and the teams/drivers, and work with them/us to improve the sport that we all love. Formula One employs some of the brightest minds in international sport and Formula One also has some of the brightest fans and global audiences. Eddie Irvine once said in one of his many tabloid columns, “I think that your average F1 fan is considerably more intelligent than your average football fan!” Whilst I don’t always like agreeing with Irvine’s comments, I have to on this occasion. I’m not necessarily being as specific as Eddie was, but I do believe that F1 does attract more intelligent people than other sports do. (That is my opinion, anyway!)

So with all these clever people around, I think the FIA need to work very hard at improving relations with said folk, and really work at improving the spectacle for everyone.

I understand that you cannot please everybody, but come on Mr Mosley, let’s try and please one person!? From there, you can work on pleasing another, and then another…

Business – after all – is all about relationships.

I still love motorsport, and will continue to watch and follow it. But if Formula One is to survive, it needs co-operation between all parties, and more people like Mika and Jenson to spice it up occasionally.

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