F1 thoughts.

The first F1 season I remember properly is 1976: James Hunt being champion, winning the British Grand Prix (I was at the Benson and Hedges cup final – Kent vs Gloucestershire – that day), then having the win taken away as my first memory of the governing body being pro Ferrari.  Niki Lauda nearly dying, in a Ferrari.

Today is May 1st. And if you ask anyone who has followed F1 as long as I have what does May 1st mean, they will say, 1994, Imola, Tamburello, May 1st is the day Ayrton Senna died.

I try to keep a balance between posting here about the technologies which Microsoft employs me to talk to people about, and other things which interest me (How technology is making our privacy go away,  Scuba diving,  photography  and its intersection with computers and  Formula one).  A few posts about the latter keep the blog interesting an excess just makes it defocused. Privacy is beginning to shade into party Politics: with Gordon Brown being on of the Labour people most closely identified with the ID cards scheme, and David Cameron lining the conservatives up to scrap it there is a tightrope to walk about having a legitimate view on a political issue (OK in my view), and using a work platform to influence how people vote (not OK). Since I have had both holiday and a spell off sick my postings overall have been way down over the last couple of months, but it is nice to find I’m getting mails and face to face comments about the lack of F1 posts on here lately, I’d normally keep an F1 post for the weekend.  So a quick round up and then I’ll stay off the subject for a bit.


I remember some time in the 1980’s Murray Walker saying he was sick of people talking about the 1950’s as some kind of Golden age, the 1980s he said were a true Golden age. Clive James once described F1 cars as moving sculptures propelled by burning money. At the end of the 80’s  we had 3 great drivers Nigel Mansell propelled his cars by guts and will power, Alain Prost’s cars moved by force of learning, and Ayrton’s by pure talent. Which isn’t to say I liked him, I didn’t much: he was too “Win at all costs” After taking 3 championships with McLaren, Senna saw has future with the all conquering Williams team, and he’d manipulated things first with Mansell and then Prost so both had left and he the  team to himself. I’ve called myself a Williams fan since the days of Alan Jones, and I lived in Didcot where the team was based and drove past the factory every day. I’d have had Mansell in my team any day, but Senna meant we’d win everything. It didn’t turn out that way. On May 1st I was with a group of friends driving back down the M6 listening to the grand prix on the radio and we heard the accident. We’d been stunned the previous day by the Death of Roland Ratzenberger – it had been a dozen years since a driver had died at a grand prix event (though two had died in testing), and the idea of two fatalities in a weekend was unthinkable. As motoring racing impacts go it was totally survivable, but for the random trajectory a front wheel took as it left the car. It hit Senna on the head, and there was no surviving that.  The May bank holiday in Didcot was bizarre; the whole town seemed bereaved. The gate of the Williams factory were shut and inside the flags hung at half mast, people hung around for hours just to be there. Some put flowers on the gate, beginning a ritual which continued for weeks: when the gates opened in the morning the staff  took the flowers, messages and pictures  and placed them around the flag poles, people would come during the day and add to them, and in the evening the gates would shut. Overnight flowers would be placed on the gate and in the morning the process would begin again. One of the “what if …” things I wonder about is what kind of Golden age we would have had with the up and coming Michael Schumacher against a Senna thinking of retirement.


Diffusers and the FIA

I heard a great quote that said F1 was about very clever people beating the merely clever; and loophole which the then Honda team found (and supposedly one of their ex-employees took to Toyota) and Williams found independently (or possibly via their link with Toyota) is a case in point. No one should be surprised that other teams ask “Is that really legal” , and go to appeal when told “yes”. There was no question of teams who had been told by the powers that be at the race that their cars could race with the clever diffuser would have their points taken away, but they could be sent back to the drawing board (well CAD screen). The surprise in all of this was best summed up by someone calling themselves the Kitchen Cynic, who commented on James Allen’s blog

To summarise the Ferrari argument:

” ‘Legal’ always used to be defined by the FIA as whatever Ferrari happened to be doing at the time. What’s changed?”

Well indeed

Brawn and Jenson Button.

I watched the Australia race and said that if you put it as a film script no one would have believed it. A team with no owner, no sponsor, no engine and frankly no apparent future a few weeks before the first case managed to bring its cars home for a one two finish. If I were Ross Brawn I’d find someone to hawk the film rights around the movie studios. As for Jenson Button those of us who though he had huge potential when he came into F1 , and then thought we were mistaken, aren’t sorry to see we right the first time. Little details like all the teams agreeing to waive the rule which said an Engine supplier can only supply two teams (and in particular Mclaren allowing Mercedes to supply engines, and Ferrari also offering) shows the sport in a good light

Hamilton and the stewards

I didn’t want to talk about this until the FIA closed the issue. Two years ago, when McLaren employees were found to getting information from Ferrari, I wondered how much information had gone the other way Ferrari took no blame for the employees who passed on the information. McLaren’s punishment seemed excessive and the whole thing supported the view that the FIA were pro-Ferrari and anti McLaren (or at least anti Ron Dennis) and that came through again when Hamilton was demoted at the Belgian grand prix 08. Another view was that McLaren under Dennis were focused on winning at any cost. You could trace that at least as far back as Senna and Prost pushing each other off the track to decide the ‘89 and ‘90 championships.  Alonso’s blocking Hamilton in the pits to prevent him taking pole position in Hungary in ‘07 was the same thing. That was a culture which needed to be changed.  If you subscribe to that view the leading the stewards to a false conclusion in Australia is part of a pattern… McLaren only wanted to get Trulli’s and Hamilton’s positions reversed – but the senior person (Dave Ryan) who met the stewards with Hamilton was so determined give people who seemed biased against him before any grounds to find against him, he let them come to a false conclusion, which was as unfair to Trulli as Belgium had been to Hamilton.  Supposedly when McLaren’s new boss, Martin Whitmarsh asked Ryan if he had denied the radio calls had taken place Ryan said no, Charlie Whiting the race director had heard the tapes of the calls and was in the meeting – How could he possibly deny it ? In fact no one in the meeting had listened to the tapes , no one took minutes. The whole thing looks a bit of shambles.  As for Hamilton there is a long history of people doing things they shouldn’t because some authority told them to (see the Milgram experiment), if he did that (instead of being an active conspirator) then we might like not like human nature, but we shouldn’t be surprised that Hamilton can’t overcome it. Whitmarsh went to see the FIA alone (no big legal team) and came away with a suspended penalty: could that be a new outlook at the FIA ? Who knows; but the signs are good.

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