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

Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Bruce McLaren – in his own words

Courtesy of Stefan Schmidt, here is some rare Bruce McLaren audio.  The “Eoin” to which he refers at the start is, of course, his secretary, Eoin Young, a New Zealander who went on to become one of the best of all F1 journalists.

Victory – good for the soul?

I think I understood Lewis Hamilton when he said after this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, “victory is good for the soul”.   What he meant, I think, is that winning can put things right, can restore your confidence in life and people and can wipe the slate clean.  “To be able to walk away with a smile is just fantastic,” said Lewis as a pre-cursor (to give the phrase its context).  The “Victory is good for the soul” mantra was then quickly adopted by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes on their merchandise site on the Monday after the race.

Actually, I don’t believe it is.  Victory is good for the ego and probably damaging for the soul;  defeat, on the contrary, is good for the soul – good in the sense that we can learn from defeat much more than we can ever learn from success.  If we look at the ways we develop as sincere human beings the progress is measured in steps rather than by 45 deg slopes.  It is the big “setbacks” that force us to re-group and to work harder, to re-focus or to re-calibrate.  The good days are easy and quickly pass;  it is the bad days that we remember and around which we are forced to make choices.  Sometimes we choose badly – but inevitably we choose;  and, from that choice, comes experience and thus knowledge.  And knowledge equals progress for the soul.

My point?  I think Lewis Hamilton is a better driver right now than at any stage of his career – and not because he won at Abu Dhabi after Seb Vettel stopped on lap one.  He’s better because of all the stuff with which he’s had to deal in 2011.  Virtually all of it has been of his own making – but it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d been a victim of outside circumstances either (as he was for much of 2007).   The point is that Lewis had to think a little bit in 2011 about things that normally he took for granted – about criticism from his peers, for example, about his new personal life and about the job Jenson Button has done at McLaren. I don’t know the detail of how any of these issues would have affected Lewis;  none of us does – least of all the famous British popular press.  What I do believe is that Lewis subconsciously would have worked on his pride and his attention to detail – elements that would certainly have improved the health of his soul.

Far more knowledgable and intelligent people than I have warned against the attractions of fame and wealth and it is in this sense that I suspect 2011 has probably been a pivotal year for Lewis.   There’s nothing wrong with earning your market value – and there’s nothing wrong with fame, providing you don’t think it’s real or something you can control.  The Lewis Hamilton who won in Abu Dhabi, I suspect, now knows this.  That’s why he’s a better person and thus a better racing driver – and that’s why his victory there would have felt all the sweeter.

Update from Nassau

David McGlaughlin, who has been working flat out all year on the 2011 Bahamas Speed Week Revival, reports from Nassau that he’s started a small group called “Nassau Racing Legends”.  They have recently been meeting every Thursday at “The Fish Fry”, near the circuit there – and also close to an associate bar called “Dwight’s Place”.  Lest we get too carried away with the romanticism of it all, David confesses that whole set-up is more akin to the Kentagon at Brands Hatch than Rosie’s bar at Monaco!

Anyway, the upshot of the meetings so far has been an excellent assortment of photos  – two of which I reproduce here.  I love the shot at the bottom of a bashful Pedro Rodriguez in 1960, when he shared a Ferrari 250 TR59 with his brother, Ricardo –  and also that of the cowboy hat-wearing Swede, Ulf Norinder.  Ricardo won the 25-lap Governor’s Trophy race that year and the two of them finished second in the longer (54-lap) Nassau Trophy Race, beaten only by the brilliant Dan Gurney and his Lotus 19;  meanwhile, Ulf was seventh in the 25-lap Nassau Tourist Trophy and ninth the big race race with his Porsche 718 RSK.  I actually saw Ulf race during the Tasman series in 1970, in which he competed with an F5000 Lola T190.  He was very large, very wealthy and very flaboyant:  he used to pour a bottle of Brut after-shave over his head every morning in order to be awake just for practice or the race.  Mind you, he probably drank some of it, too, because  he pulled out of the New Zealand Grand Prix – I think it was – after suffering double-vision from some sort of vibration in the suspension.  It was only several hours later, with the symptoms persisting, that he confessed that it had nothing more than a common hangover.   Mike Hailwood once told me that he visited Ulf’s mansion in Sweden and was astonished to reach the main house some 30 minutes after they’d passed through the main gates into the drive-way:  Ulf’s forest was that large.

Ulf, very sadly, committed suicide in late 1978 after learning that he was suffering from cancer.  

My Post Card from India

19 races? Forty years ago that was not a problem….

Amidst all the talk about this year’s arduous 19-race championship it’s worth reflecting that the F1 teams also raced 19 times in 1971…seemingly without problem and at a time when flight travel not only took longer but was also serviced by fewer routes and when routine tasks like engine changes took five hours and thus obliged mechanics regularly to work all-nighters.  The FIA World Championship was only 11 rounds long 40 years ago but the teams in addition competed in no fewer than eight non-championship races – in venues as far apart as Buenos Aires (Argentina), Ontario (California), Hockenheim (Germany) and Oulton Park (England).  Not much thought was given to logistics, either.  The non-championship Argentine GP was held in late January but there were no other races in South America and the championship season itself didn’t start until early March (in South Africa).   And the Questor Grand Prix, held in California in late March, was inserted between the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and the Rothmans International Trophy at Oulton Park.

Sir Jackie Stewart dominated the 1971 season with his Elf Tyrrell-Cosworth, although the year will also be remembered for Mario Andretti winning his debut race for Ferrari (at Kyalami); Jacky Ickx and Pedro Rodriguez displaying their prodigious wet-weather skill in a wheel-to-wheel battle at Zandvoort; Peter Gethin winning Monza for BRM  (by 0.01sec and at an average of 150mph); and Francois Cevert taking his first (and sadly only) win for Elf Team Tyrrell at Watkins Glen.  Other notable events included Mark Donohue finishing third in his F1 debut (in a Penske-entered McLaren in Canada); Vic Elford slicing through the field at the Nuburgring in a third works Yardley BRM; Jo Siffert scoring his second F1 win in Austria; Ronnie Peterson finishing a great second at Monaco for STP March; Sam Posey qualifying mid-field at the Glen in a third works Surtees (only fractionally slower than Mike Hailwood); George Eaton and John Cannon racing for BRM in the North American GPs;  and Skip Barber, he of driving academy fame, not only racing his March 711 in North America but also finishing sixth in the non-championship event in Hockenheim.   1971 also marked the first appearance of slick tyres (Spanish GP) and of a turbine-powered F1 car (Dave Walker’s Gold Leaf Lotus 56B, at Zandvoort, although it had raced in non-championship events prior to that).

Speaking of those non-championship events, let’s remember the winners and some of the highlights:  Chris Amon won for Matra in Argentina (with Carlos Reutemann finishing third with a McLaren M7C in his first F1 race).  Clay Regazzoni won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch for Ferrari (with the talented policeman/racing driver, Ray Allen, finishing sixth in Frank Williams’ March 701); Mario Andretti followed up his Kyalami win with victory at Ontario (where Pedro Rodriguez set fastest lap for BRM);  Pedro then won the Rothmans International Trophy at Oulton Park (after a close fight with Peter Gethin’s McLaren:  both drivers shared fastest lap!); Graham Hill scored Brabham’s only win of the year at the GKN/Daily Express International Trophy at Silverstone (when a stuck throttle forced Jackie Stewart head-on into the barriers at Copse);  Jacky Ickx won the Jochen Rindt Memorial Race at Hockenheim for Ferrari;  John Surtees repeated his 1970 feat by winning in a car bearing his own name at Oulton Park, in the Rothmans International (nee Gold Cup);  and Peter Gethin won the sad and shortened Rothmans World Championships Victory Race at Brands Hatch.  It was in this race that his team-mate, Jo Siffert, left the road at Hawthorns and died in the huge fire that followed.  Looking back now, it is shattering to imagine the pain – and the season – that the Yardley BRM team was forced to survive.  They lost their star driver, Pedro Rodriguez, in an unimportant quasi-CanAm event after the French GP (where Pedro was lying a great second before he retired with an electrical problem) but carried on immediately with regular drivers Siffert and Howden Ganley.  Peter Gethin, son of the acclaimed National Hunt jockey, Ken Gethin, was enticed from McLaren to race for BRM from the Austrian GP onwards – and then won his second race for the team in that classic slipstreamer at Monza.

Then Jo died at Brands, at season’s end.

Nico Hulkenberg talks about his Brazilian pole (one year on); his year with Sahara Force India GP and his hopes for 2012

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