…chance doesn't exist; there's always a cause and a reason for everything – Elahi

Fernando’s 250th GP appearance

IMG_2082It flashlit a dark, wet Friday evening in Sochi. The McLaren offices. F1 drivers and friends.

Fernando was touched; no doubt about that. “When I see the pictures,” he said quietly, “and I see the videos of all those years it is as if it is not myself. It is someone in helmet and overalls, racing for so many years with friends and team-mates.  And so I want to say thanks for the time I have had in this first 250. There will not be another 250, I can tell you, but it has been special. Sometimes we are up and down in the sport. Not always can we be in control but even in the difficult times I am still enjoying what I do because I share my life with you. We spend some weeks with family at home and some days with friends we meet after a long time but our normal life is here. It is between us and it is this normal life that we share. This is what makes it possible to do 250 races. You enjoy the environment and you enjoy the people you are working with. The best technical people in the world. The best engineers. The best cars – truly great people. That is the most important thing from this 250.

“So thanks everyone for coming here.  I am happy that we share this moment together and for the young people that are here I wish that you enjoy your 250 races because I reached this number with good success and in sport if you don’t win it’s not the same thing. In my case I try to enjoy this time with McLaren-Honda and I am sure we will enjoy it more in the future. Lots of thanks too to Ron Dennis, who is not here. Perhaps this allows us to relax a little more but we need him more than ever to take us through this situation quickly. Thank you.”

And when we – Darren Heath, Steven Tee and I – asked Fernando afterwards what celebration/moves he had in mind for when he does again win a race he replied, “I don’t know yet.  I know what I’m going to do when I retire, though – after my last race:  I’m going to strip down the overalls, sit on the car like in the old days and light up a cigarette!”

Thanks, Fernando.  You’ve ignited our sport for a decent time now.  Here’s to many races more.


Notes from the Singapore paddock

  • The Romain Grosjean-Felipe Nasr first-lap shunt at Monza (Romain’s right-front hit Felipe’s left-rear) was indeed a “racing accident”.  It turns out that when Grosjean’s Lotus was hit from behind by Nasr’s team-mate, Marcus Ericsson, the resultant impact/deceleration was enough to activate the anti-stall on the Grosjean car.  That’s why he then had no control and collected Nasr. I asked Romain if this anti-stall-kicking-in-mid-corner thing was something he’d experienced before and he said he had: it’s become an integral part of this current era of technology and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing.  I can see why the cars need anti-stall but Romain agreed with me that in the pre-anti-stall days the incident at Monza would have resulted in all three cars continuing relatively undamaged.  As it was, we had a “racing accident” – 2015-style.
  • Speaking of Nasr, he’s been having a lot of trouble with his Brembo brakes recently – specifically with managing the temperature windows.  With Ericsson racing Carbon Industries on the other Sauber, Felipe is also switching to CI for Singapore. Daniil Kvyat, meanwhile, was surprised to hear this, bearing in mind how quick he has been on the Brembos. More than anything, I think, it shows how difficult it is for a team to run two different  brake types within the same garage. Nick Chester of Lotus was saying that “finding brake temperature windows” is primarily all about brake ducts  – “which sounds simple until you remember that ducts not only play a massive role in aerodynamics but are also very expensive and time-consuming to make, given all the aero research that goes into them.”  Is this a good thing, I ask?  I  don’t mind getting excited about a new wing or something but  brakes to my  mind should be about stopping power. Ducts? Difficult to get massively excited about their inner workings but it explains why low-budget teams like Sauber find it so hard to get the cars to stop.
  • It’s official: Ferrari have confirmed that Kimi’s poor start in Monza was indeed “finger trouble”.  Having said that, Kimi replicated the start sequence a hundred times in the simulator a few days later – and was perfect every time. He would have hated that, too, because he likes working in a simulator about as much as he does wearing a tie. He’s still unsure of what happened but it all points to him not releasing the first clutch paddle…and initiating the anti-stall. Sergio Perez owned up to having made the same mistake in practice – and Romain Grosjean said that he still spends a lot of time thinking through the start procedure the night before a race. It’s still that complicated.
  • I said on video after the Italian GP ( that Kimi’s re-booting process seemed to be pretty quick but the word from the Singapore paddock is that it was actually surprisingly slow: all that’s required is a quick flick of the clutch lever and you’re away. I guess in Kimi’s case he also spent a few seconds wondering whether the nightmare could really be true…
  • Valtteri Bottas has confirmed that he “just happened” to leave the garage ahead of Felipe Massa in that final qualifying run at Monza. Bottas gave the tow to his team-mate – and the rest is history.  My bet is that Valtteri will be a bit more selective about who he has running five seconds behind him come Monza, 2016, but this is really something he should have thought about before the race week. No honest race engineer is ever going to prevent one of the team cars helping the other (in qualifying) but the driver has a different set of priorities – ie, he wants to beat his team-mate more than any other driver on the grid.  Most of today’s F1 drivers have managers for their contractual and financial affairs but, to me, this sort of issue should also fall under the remit of “management”.  If a personal manager isn’t going to remind the driver about something like this, who is?
  • Daniel Ricciardo told me that “getting the brakes to work at the correct temperature” has been a major factor in the recent, improved  performance at Red Bull-Renault. I say this because so much of the chat these days is about the Renault engine and very little of it is about Brembo. Singapore is going to be a big test for the brakes – but then Monza was, too, and they worked well there on the RB11. Daniel has been preparing for Singapore by cycling in a controlled-temperature environment (stationary bike!) and is of course looking forward to the weekend: “I sweat so much here it’s ridiculous.  When I got out of the car a couple of years ago there was so much fluid in the seat that boys thought I’d had an unfortunate accident or something.  I wouldn’t resort to Nico Rosberg’s extremes but I need to make sure that the front of the balaclava acts as a sweat-soak..”  Nico’s extremes?  Apparently he’s tried sanitary pads on his forehead…
  • Sergio Perez reports that the Mexican GP is a sell-out and that the temperature is definitely rising.  (A lot of the tickets were bought by touts, but then it was forever thus in Mexico City.)  No pressure on him, then? “I love it,” he chortled.  “The place has gone crazy. I never imagined that F1 could be so big in my country.”

Goodwood 2015: a personal album

With Mario at Monza ’68

65610012As the official photographer to Team Lotus in the 1960s, Peter Darley, like the photo-journalist, David Phipps, was close to both Colin Chapman and the Team Lotus personnel.  He was at Monza in 1968 when Mario Andretti (and Bobby Unser) were scheduled to make their F1 debuts for Gold Leaf Team Lotus and BRM. He recently sent us his recollections:

Colin asked me to collect Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser from the airport. No-one knew which one – Linate or Malpensa? Anyway, I researched which was used for transatlantic flights and rolled up. Bobby was driving for BRM, Mario for Lotus. I found them both and we piled into my Fiat 124 hire car. After a few kms, Mario decided he wanted to drive, although Bobby wasn’t so sure, muttering things about crazy Italians. It was thereafter a drive of a lifetime: Mario had the pedal to the metal for the entire journey. When we reached Monza, Mario and Bobby found they had no passes but a few words from Mario to the local police resulted in the gates opening and the crowds parting as if we were going through the Red Sea. We were there.

Unfortunately all this was in vain: since they had competed in the US the previous day, Monza’s Race Director, Snr Baccagalupi, refused to allow them to race in Italy under the 24 hr rule. We knew better, of course: with Mario a definite contender for the pole and a possible win – even though this would have been his first F1 race – it was in Ferrari’s interest to keep him away. He made up for it by taking the pole for what was his first race – the 1968 US GP at Watkins Glen.

I took these photos of Mario at Monza that year – (above) with his team-mate for practice (Graham Hill); and in the high-wing Lotus 49B with Colin Chapman.  (Photos copyright Peter Darley)57970014_257970001_2


Monza Magic…well, almost

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza is upon us.  Enjoy it, for there may not be a million more, given the state of the F1 economy right now.  As AJ Foyt memorably said to Nigel Roebuck recently, “Is that Monza place still going?”

I hope it survives; I love circuits that touch the past.  We need them – just as we need the past in order to create the future.

That subject, though, is for another day. It’s time to celebrate Monza, 2015, and to start us on the path, courtesy of Movietone News, we’ve put together a collection of Monza Moments – well, almost Monza moments, because I couldn’t resist a bit of Tazio Nuvolari in Tunis or that amazing Ferrari dead-heat at Syracuse in 1967. Finally, the spirit of Monza is I think encapsulated by the enthusiasm of the starter in the last video (1968 1000km).  By the time the back of the grid reaches him they’re travelling at well over 100mph…  Avanti!



Championship won

progNurburgring, August 1, 1965. German GP  Very quickly, the F1 calendar brought an end to the Ingliston Interlude and the Scots R&R that came with it: the German GP was scheduled to take place at the Nurburgring the following weekend. The press billed it as a “Championship decider” but in truth it was Jim Clark’s first opportunity to clinch his second World Title. A win at the ‘Ring would secure it. Should he fail to do so, then there was always Monza, or Watkins Glen…

For Jim, this was a big race for another reason: he had never won at the ‘Ring. He’d always been quick, both in sports cars and F1, but always there had been problems. Now he had the almost-perfect car (the Lotus 33B, fitted with a larger-capacity oil tank in the wake of the Silverstone near-miss) and the almost-perfect engine (the 32-valve Climax V8, now running tapered valves to curb excessive oil consumption). All he needed was a trouble-free weekend.30445 1965GermanGP

This he had. It wasn’t easy, because he backed-off a fraction late when the car was airborne in the early laps, buzzing the Climax up to 11,200 rpm; and, late in the race, when light rain began to fall, the engine lost its sharpness due to a broken exhaust. Jackie Stewart, though, had problems with the BRM, leaving Graham Hill as Jim’s only real threat, while Dan Gurney’s 16-valve Brabham-Climax was very slow in a straight line.30403 1965GermanGP

So Jim secured the 1965 Championship on the world’s most demanding circuit. He started from the pole; he was never headed for two hours, 10min; and he set fastest lap. It was a fitting result, you might say. Afterwards, with the garland, he was joined for the long celebratory lap in an open sports car by a beaming Graham and Dan (in neat, light blue Goodyear jacket). Win No 28 

Images: LAT Photographic30398 1965GermanGP

Courtesy of AP, here are the Movietone News race highlights that hit the cinemas within a few days of Jim’s momentous win:

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