Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Greatest Race That Never Was: London 2012

Putting something a bit different on and posting up a short story! I wrote this in the wintertime but forgot to post it up at the time...which explains the start of it - at Christmas! Thought it might be interesting to put this up now that the Games are in full swing...

The floor was strewn with bits of pinecones, tinsel and all manner of other detritus, the tree listed to one side, the lights flickered – was that down to my haphazard handiwork,  or was the electricity failing thanks to the howling wind and snow outside? Well, it was most likely my poor workmanship, but come on, I only got to practice this once a year, in pursuance of the whole ‘Christmas’ circus. I found ‘Chrimbo’ a mite contrived, and more importantly, it represented a massive obstacle to my constant quest to watch as much live motorsport as possible, in person or on TV. Britain’s race tracks were long under snow, and the gushing torrent of live motorsport on telly had reduced to a trickle. Was that Andros Trophy in the planner a rerun of last year’s race? Oh, look, V8 Supercars at the weekend!.....ah, darnit, the final race was two weeks ago....how long till the Dakar


I sat down on the armchair, truly exhausted after a few hours of the ‘fun’ of decorations. I poured myself a whisky, and lay back. Why couldn’t Bernie have extended the season even further? A Grand Prix would have been just lovely to sit down to now. Instead what was flashing up on my screen was a ‘celebration of the Olympics’. There were thousands of people gathered. ‘Less than 100 days to go’ boomed the presenter, with it written in huge neon lights on Trafalgar Square just in case you hadn’t heard. Oh crumbs, that will be another thing that disrupts motorsport, wedged right in the middle of the season. No doubt we will have to pretend to enjoy it, while we miss loads of great track action! Just like Christmas, and just as contrived. Don’t give me all this spiel about plucky amateur values and grass roots sport, given the whole thing was just a bizarre arms race between Governments, showering money on teams for medals and prestige? And surely there were some professional sports there anyway, cricket golf...but only the lucky few? Who decided that?  So we were facing an Olympics without motor sport, but also rugby, cricket, snooker, darts, in a British festival of sport! Oh for goodness sake! It made me angry, although given the long day decorating, that made me feel even more tired. I pulled my cushion up, shimmied under my nice thick rug, and my eyes were weightlifting heavy within seconds. All went black......

I suddenly regained vision again, and struggled to focus. Strangely, there were no decorations in sight, it was warm, and very sunny outside, and I was wearing my beach shorts. I was massively confused....mind you, the telly was still blaring away on full volume, just as I had left it. Okay then, fine. Mind, the pictures had changed – was that the Olympic Stadium with thousands of people in it? Test event? What was going on?
‘The OLYMPICS, the nation unites around OUR festival of sport’ shouted the announcer. Oh purrlease.....so give it to me then, our good old festival of sport, where you’re probably about to cut to the obscureville arena for some sport you never knew existed.....

‘Hi I’m Jake Humphrey, here at Brands Hatch, for the Olympics motorsport events. First let’s talk about the new event with Lewis Hamilton, Dario Franchitti, and Sebastien Loeb, part of the greatest driver line up ever assembled!

What the fu............

‘But first I’ve got Bernie Ecclestone, the instigator of all this. Bernie it was a bit of a shock when you and the IOC announced this in January?’

‘Well yes Jake, but as I said at the time, we all mellow a bit....eventually.....and I just thought elite level motor sport had become too associated with money, with Formula 1 far too dominant. I just wanted a fun event, that showed off the Corinthian spirit of the athletes from the diverse parts of our great sport.’


So I planned this event myself and I have paid for all the cars, the circuit, and the marshals. So when I went to the IOC, they were so tempted by the prospect of boosting viewing figures by enticing some F1 fans to actually watch the damn thing....and, er, of course, the great contribution to the sporting spirit of the Olympics this would be. So we will have three separate one make races, in V8 Superstars, around the rallycross course in Ford Fiesta WRC’s and finally in Superleague Formula cars. And may I just say isn’t this track marvellous, far better than some of the Tilke tracks I’ve, perhaps, mistakenly flooded the calendar with....’

This was ridiculous now. It had to be a dream. I pinched myself. I didn’t wake up. There was a pencil lying on the sofa, and I pricked myself on the arm – ouch! Still didn’t wake up Well, it must be a  pretty realistic dream.....

‘Thanks Bernie, well there was so much debate about what 40 drivers would be selected, including the now famous article on the Motor Sport website that attracted 850,000 comments, entering the Guinness Book of Records. In the end the FIA and IOC settled on last years champions in Formula One, Indycar, NASCAR, GP2, WTCC, BTCC, DTM, V8 Supercars, Formula Renault World Series, WRC  and IRC, plus 29 wildcards selected by a committee. Sadly it was just too last minute to get racing bikes involved, although they will compete in 2014 for a separate medal, and Valentino Rossi is one of the wildcards thanks to his previous car racing experience. Here are the drivers displayed on your screen.’

D. Earnhardt Jr
R. Wickens
A. Mikkelsen
J.E. Vergene
Points system: 40 for first, down to one for last.

Wow, what a field. What a field! All racing together, at Brands Hatch! I could rightly live with the Olympics now thank you very much! Although I was still slightly bemused by Bernie Ecclestone’s attitude. Less so the drivers.....

‘Lewis, are you not pining for your F1 car after the two days testing in these three cars?’  ‘No way man, this is frickin great! That V8 touring car is awesome, you can get the rear end to slide so good, and the superleague car with a V12! I remember the V12’s from Senna’s day....the SOUND! What a SOUND!!’

‘And Sebastien, you’re a wild card, how do you think you can do in the racing cars, is it too steep a challenge as a rally man?’ ‘Ah no....I don’t think so. I always have....pride...in being an all rounder, I’ve done track racing successfully before, and I really think I have the all round ability to beat these guys. I will certainly beat Ogier easily!!’

‘And Dario, you’ve put so much effort into your preparation for this, what does Olympic Gold mean to you?’ ‘Ah, so much, so much. I was delighted that the FIA resurrected the Jim Clark Trophy to be presented along with the Gold medal. I’m a big student of the history of the sport, and even now I can’t believe how Jim Clark could jump from Formula One, to Touring Cars, rally cars, anything.....To have the opportunity to do the same, even for one meeting...is just such a privilege. So I really want to win! Some people have said that carving out a replica of the rallycross track at my ranch, and buying a Ford Fiesta WRC to practice was a bit much, but we racing drivers always want the unfair advantage!’
Wow....I couldn’t believe some of all this. 40 of the world’s best drivers in V12 single seaters, rally cars, high powered touring cars...bring it on!

‘Now we will show you highlights of the first two races before we go live to the third race’.

The V8 supercars appeared on the grid for the first race, with the star studded line up. The fireworks were about to go off, and my goodness they went off with a bang. But first, astonishingly, confounding the predictions of each and every one of the pundits, the cars made it through Paddock Hill bend without contact. But that was just a lull in the storm, as it really degenerated at Druids, with Tony Stewart taking a massive yahoo up the inside of Jamie Whincup, the two cars slewing all over the place on the exit of the corner, before Matt Neal gave them a little tap, pushing them offline, with the concertina effect causing a lot of banging around through the field. The onboard camera caught Stewart gesticulating and shouting furiously.....As the cars screamed down the hill and the end of lap one, the order was: Lowndes, Edwards, Prialux, J.Gordon, R.Gordon, Plato, Hamilton, Whincup, Stewart, Vettel, Johnson and Franchitti. As the race went on the pace was furious, with the non touring car drivers adapting very well to the bashing and boring.  In just a few of the flashpoint areas the highlights editor had picked out, Michael Schumacher put Montoya on the grass on the run down the hill to Hawthorn, before Juan nerfed him into the gravel at Dingle Dell. ‘I’ll show you ONE MOVE!’ he thundered on the radio. There was a right shemozzle at Paddock Hill on the next lap as Robby Gordon and Jason Plato banged fenders on the way in, and as they did so, Hamilton blasted past on the outside, powersliding the car on the grass in a wonderful manoeuvre, to the frenzied noise and applause of the packed crowd on the banking. Astonishing! But then it was quickly all shattered, with Robby Gordon locking up hugely in the run into Graham Hill bend, knocking into the rear of Hamilton’s car and knocking the rear wing off. But this did not deter Lewis and he kept charging round, powersliding everywhere and entertaining the crowd. But it began to wilt his tyres, and he was overtaken by first Vettel and then Johnson. They had bided their time, and saved their tyres, and gradually worked their way up the field. 10 laps from the end Johnson slipstreamed past Vettel, after following him the whole race, and relentlessly then picked off everyone else, with a series of incisive manoeuvres, finally taking Lowdnes round the outside of Surtees on the last lap. So the final order was: Johnson, Lowndes, Edwards, Prialux, Borudais, Vettel, J.Gordon, Hamilton, Franchitti, Loeb, Stewart. 

‘And if you thought that was chaos, here are the highlights of the second race.’

The cars appeared in screen for the rallycross event. Loeb and Ogier were on the front row. The commentator  was excitedly burbling about this being a grudge match between Loeb and Ogier, after the recent war of words between the two in world rally. And true to the form, the two indulged in an orgy of wheel banging throughout the race, as they left the rest of the field in the mists. Behind there was utter chaos, with the F1 drivers in particular using the license to pull out some spectacular power slides. Hamilton showed a great aptitude for this, joking over the team radio that it was a joy to do two races with no downforce at the back, and that he wished he could do it more often! Franchitti was well up after his extra testing and had a ding dong with the exciting Theirry Neuville, that ended up in their bumpers littering the track. After 50 minutes of absolute chaos, it came down to the last lap, with Loeb slingshoting Ogier at the last corner to won, much to his joy. The final order was: Loeb, Ogier, Neuville, Hirvonen, Franchitti, Kopecky, Hirvonen, Stewart, Hamilton, and Vettel.

‘And now we go to our final race, in the V12 superleague formula cars’. The standings going into the race were:
Loeb: 71
Franchitti: 68
Vettel: 66
Hamilton: 65

Vettel had taken pole, sharing the front row with Hamilton, with Franchitti in 5th, and Loeb in 12th. All still had shots at the Gold Medal. It promised to be quite a race, and so it was. Vettel roared off from the start, while Hamilton got an awful one, and was passed by Alonso, Webber , Button and Dixon. Vettel immediately built up a big lead. But inexorably, cheered on by the capacity crowd, Hamilton started to move up the field. He went round the outside of Dixon into Surtees, slipstreamed Button down the hill into McLeans, and dived past Webber into Paddock Hill bend. After that he barged up the inside of Alonso into Graham Hill bend, and started to reel in Vettel. He looked good for the win. But this seemed to spur on Alonso, and he passed Hamilton in an astonishing manoeuvre that started with him going up the inside at Paddock, but thanks to Hamilton’s obduracy lasted till Alonso got the drop at Dingle Dell! It was all absolutely crucial, as although Alonso could not realistically win Gold, he could take it away from Hamilton and Vettel by winning – Hamilton needed to win the race, second for Vettel would not be enough if Franchitti was 5th, or Loeb 9th. And intriguingly Franchitti, cannily saving his tyres, was in 7th, but catching Schumacher and Dixon for that 5th place, while being pressured by Castroneves and Vergene. But catching them all was Loeb, a quite astonishing performance for a man who had been refused an F1 superlicence, but was finally fulfilling his dream of racing against the best of the best in single seaters. And he was in tantalising reach of the Gold medal....

The race got momumentally intense towards the last 5 laps, with the TV director furiously flashing up ‘As it stands’ tables every 5 seconds – and rightly so, because the position was constantly changing. At various points, Franchitti, Vettel, Hamilton or Loeb were all theoretically top of the table. The top 3 had got into a ding dong battle and were swapping the lead nearly every corner. Franchitti had briefly got into the hallowed 5th place, but Schumacher and Dixon were proving obdurate and sparked off another desperate bout of passing and repassing.  Loeb had joined a furious battle with Castroneves and Vergene for 8th. If Loeb was 9th he would win Gold providing Franchitti was not 5th. If he was 8th he would definitely win Gold. If either Vettel or Hamilton won they would win Gold providing Loeb or Franchitti were lower than 9th or 5th respectively. Get it? Well I didn’t, but with the help of Mr ‘As it Stands’, I was enjoying it immensely! It really was all up in the air.....

And who to win? They all had mighty claims to be deserving of the first Olympic Gold. Vettel was the World Champion, had been breathtakingly fast in everything and had really thumbed ‘the finger’ to anyone who thought he couldn’t do wheel to wheel racing – he had executed, what, a million clean and brilliant passes in one day! Hamilton had brilliantly got into the spirit of it, relentlessly attacking, creating nonstop excitement for the home crowd, even when he had no rear wing. Loeb had showed how much of great all rounder he was, possessing real single seater prowess, and as a bonus had vanquished his emerging rival Ogier. And Dario.....he had been great, and his respect for the history of the sport and adulation of Jim Clark, in some way, it make it so fitting if he was up there on the podium in front of 100,000, the Gold medal round his neck and lifting the Jim Clark trophy. There was just one thing for sure – they had all thrown themselves into the event, created a magnificent spectacle that would be the talk of the Olympics, and motorsport fans would be proud of them, whoever the winner....

The last lap started. Somehow the director had contrived a three way split screen to view the crucial battles that would decide the Gold. The front three battle was unbelievable, throwing all caution to the wind, going on the grass sliding, darting around,(maybe thinking they were still in the touring cars?!) but still showing respect for each other.....just about! It was more Villeneuve/Arnoux than dodgem cars, thankfully. As they went through Clearways and into Clark, Vettel appeared to have it, but Alonso had saved a little power boost and used it just before the braking area, and dived down the inside brakes locked, both cars lightly tapping and slewing a fraction sideways, both drivers struggling to put the traction down and beat the other to the line. While they were doing this, Hamilton had thrown his car into a crazy powerslide, two wheels slightly on the grass, still behind, but crucially carrying more momentum than the other two. HOW WAS THIS GOING TO END?! And the thing was, the lead battle possibly wasn’t even decisive. The other split screen showed Franchitti in 6th, but diving down the inside of Schumacher into Stirlings, with the door rapidly closing! Could he sneak through? And at the same time, Loeb had sneaked up to 8th. But there was Vergne going round the outside of Loeb into Dingle Dell! I could not believe this!!! Everything was happening at once, yet somehow in slow motion. It was madly exciting, who was going to win Gold out of all this pandemonium!! I stood up and punched the air –‘This is the Olympics! Gold!! COME ON!!!!!!!!!’


I was still shouting and punching the air like a madman, but suddenly....I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t focus on the TV. Was there a problem? Oh no, had the satellite signal lost it at the crucial moment? I NEED TO KNOW HOW THAT ENDED!!! NOW!  But hang on, now I refocused my vision, the TV was still displaying pictures. But they were of the lithe figure of Usain Bolt, ‘the fastest man on earth’. THEY HAVE CUT AWAY FROM BRANDS HATCH FOR THAT?!!!!!!! I smacked my hand against my trousers in utter disgust.....

Trousers? What had happened to my beach shorts? And why was it so cold? In summer? What?

I looked around. Oh no. Oh no. The Christmas tree was still up with the lights flashing.....

A dream!

Oh darn, now I would never know who won....mind you it was the best dream ever. And Usain Bolt the fastest man on earth, Olympics hype la de dah...you got to be kidding me! There are faster out there don’t you worry about that. He wouldn’t have got near 40th place in my dream!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Williams Keeping Their Principles...?

Well, I was definately a tad pessimistic in my last post, with my opinion that the Williams team would find it very hard to return to past glory and that their decline was all the worse for the way their principles seemed to be gradually floating away with the winds! I did read one thing last night that reassured and amused me. In Jonathan Noble's excellent interview with Rubens Barrichello, http://plus.autosport.com/premium/feature/4241/rubens-barrichello-im-smiling-big-time/  Rubens let slip that Sir Frank had been "cold" duirng the phone call where he told him that he would not have the 2012 drive, and Rubens was not happy at not even being thanked for his two years of service! The Williams old 'no nonsense' school of driver management is still around! And maybe it is filtering down to the new generation of leadership as Barrichello states that Adam Parr has still yet to contact him.....it certainly is a reminder of past times with Williams, who managed to lose/let go of four World Champions immediately after they won the World Championship in the space of under a decade - Piquet, Mansell, Prost and Hill.

I say this half in jest of course, a case can certainly made for the other drivers they took in place of their World Champions. It is still an astonishing statistic, and anecdotes like those of Rubens Barrichello still indicate a distinct 'no bull' attitude! My eyes are still blinking at the realisation Jacques Villeneuve raced with the number one on his WILLIAMS in 1998......!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Williams And Principles

All us motor sport fans, bloggers, forumites and general fanatics resemble Aladdin on speed around this time of year, fervently pleading for our wishes to be granted: “If Mark Webber could win the championship and five manufacturers suddenly enter the World Sportscar Championship and the Grand Prix ticket prices get reduced and…..(continued ad nasueam). And I am no different, with a melange of different hopes, fancies, fears and lunatic impossibilities filling my mind about a variety of different areas of the sport. But what keeps tapping me on my minds shoulder is the most enticing one, that Williams Grand Prix Engineering might just shock everybody this year and move up the grid. Wouldn’t it be just brilliant? The performance of Williams in recent times, and especially last year, was enough to make one weep. Reading the Williams thread on the Autosport Racing Comments thread was sometimes like walking into an episode of Cheers when the regulars were at their most morose (and this is not a criticism of them, such pessimism WAS perrenially justified). So definitely an annus mirabilis then. And what makes this more painful is how Williams have deviated from the values which have won them so many fans.

Two incidents underline these values, which make me happy, sad, fascinated, laugh, despair and bewildered depending on which way I look at them, but are all uniquely Williams. The first was when they rejected the offer of keeping their Honda engine supply in favour of buying normally aspirated John Judd engines in 1988. McLaren had cleverly spirited away Senna from Lotus, and along with him a supply of the ‘best in class’ Honda turbocharged engines. But Honda were not up for burning all their bridges with Williams, and offered them continued engine supply, as long as they reserved a place for their favoured son, Satoru Nakajima, who had been at Lotus. Williams could have kept a free supply of the best engine, while negotiating with alternative manufacturers if they wished for future years, while providing a viable challenge to McLaren, comparing themselves against Ron’s men with the same engine. How different would the Senna/Prost domination of 1988 been with Nigel Mansell buzzing around in a Williams Honda? Well, we don’t know, because the Williams answer to Honda’s generous offer was: NO. And no doubt delivered in a fashion that wouldn’t have been ‘Lost in Translation’! That is Williams, delivering themselves pain in the short term, to stick to their long term principles. But would they have it any other way?

They certainly didn’t in 1996, when they let go of one of their boffins. And it wasn’t any old boffin....it was a certain Adrian Newey, and it has not turned out well for the boys from Grove. The story goes that Newey wanted more recognition for the astounding job he had done with the cars, helping Williams reap from 1991-1996 a massive harvest of victories, championships and glory. Specifically, he wanted shares in the business, around 10% if what I read at the time was correct. The Williams response? Well you can probably guess by now.....NO! And look how it cost them, as Newey went to McLaren, and then Red Bull, inspiring them to championships, while Williams have won none since the 1997 chariot that Newey left netted the Drivers and Constructors titles.

So, while by turn maddening and frustrating, the two examples at least show a team that sticks to its principles no matter what. So what if they are enjoying bad times, at least they can be beaten by no one for those principles eh? Well....no. The breaking of the first principle was painfully and ironically evident. Just in case it didn’t dawn on people in 2007, 19 years on, that Williams were breaking their principle to take a Japanese driver, in order to get a discount on their engines, this Japanese driver had to be.......Nakajima san, KAZUKI Nakajima, son of Satoru. Generational changes....And when Patrick Head stepped down, and wanted to sell his stake in the team, the shares that Adrian Newey wasn’t good enough for, are now owned by.....Tom, Dick and Harry. Well they very well COULD be. They were floated on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, so go and buy some for yourself right now if you fancy it. So did Williams’ credibility float away with it? Well that would be excessively harsh. They are Williams, they are privateer, Sir Frank is still at the helm, their core business is still racing, there is no mega-rich sugar daddy behind it all (not even Qatari) and my goodness they even have Renault powerplants in the back of the things this year. But undeniably, something has changed. Adam Parr now seems to be a big public face of the team, pay drivers come and go, and they are now involved in a multitude of other projects, opening a technology centre in Qatar, or working with road car manufacturers. ‘Diversification’, and maybe more sensible for the bottom line, but more McLaren than Williams. Something seems to have been lost from the Williams ethos. 

And yet, if they were a stock................oh, they are(!)....................well anyway, I would be recommending ‘Buy’ for this season. A Renault engine that apparently allows them to fully exploit their svelte gearbox, a ban on exhaust blowing that the Cossie couldn’t manage last year, and a new design team including the talented (albeit controversial) Mike Coughlan, and I think Williams will safely leap from the no man’s land of last year right back into the upper midfield this year and ‘overperform’ expectations – never a bad thing. But that is this year....in the long term I worry that Williams, increasingly under Parr’s leadership, will hit a ceiling where that is all they are able to achieve, and future race wins are beyond them. The seeming gradual tearing apart of the RRA, and Williams’ financial weakness would leave them exposed in a new era of financial arms racing. And lead to further reliance on pay drivers, which when from dubious regimes like the Venezuela of Hugo Chavez, will lead to less interest from other sponsors, less money, less performance, which will lead to less interest.....and repeat. I worry that this year may be as good as it gets for Williams. And I’m just not sure potential future decline will be accompanied by them sticking to their guns as resolutely as in the past either.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cars and Tracks

Further to my post about 'Cars and Tracks' below, and what I see is a bit of a crunch, where Formula One has hit a ceiling with the amount of 'raw' pace the cars can have, on tracks where the spectators and marshals are still vaguly close to the cars, I lobbed in a question to the Motor Sport magazine podcast, this month with Pat Symonds, and was delighted to hear my question read out. Mr Symonds put the (far more well informed!) counter view to me, that new safety initiatives like SAFER barriers increase the ceiling for performance, and many of the things that are happening with energy recovery will be very exciting.

The question is at about 45 minutes in, and the podcast is at http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/f1/opinion/januarys-audio-podcast-with-pat-symonds/comment-page-1/#comment-129784  and on iTunes. But do listen to the whole thing, the Motor Sport podcasts are always top notch, and actually make me look forward to long walks/runs (a minor miracle there!). And as for the magazine which just landed on my doormat with the Williams FW14B on the front and all the stories about Williams, it is really superlative even by their high standards!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Is It Just Me, Or....?

I would think everyone has it in life, but as I hurtle through the years I find the ‘is it just me’ moments are increasing, stopping me in my daily business, tapping me on the shoulder and having a little chat. One such moment came last week, with the budgies twittering that Bruno Senna was off to Williams (on the money again Joe Saward) and the subsequent announcement. And before you say it, the ‘Is It Just Me’ moment was not so much for the announcement of Senna getting the seat. I think he will do pretty well. A lot have forgotten he showed promise in GP2 and British Formula 3, and did well I thought given the ‘poisoned chalice’ of a seat midway through the season last year. No, he didn’t blow his teammate Vitaly Petrov away halfway through the calendar. Neither did Messrs Algusuari, Grosjean and Heidfeld to their dancing partners in similar situations in past seasons. Although it does frustrate me the way Williams have (again) insisted that a driver choice is ‘nothing to do with money’. Let them cling to that splintering liferaft if they must, but it doesn’t stop me hankering after the old Williams ‘no bulls**t’ philosophy. And never mind the days when they would fearlessly let a factory Honda engine deal evaporate, to avoid taking Satoru Nakajima (must write another blogpost about all that someday...). My faith wasn’t exactly at hands clasped, kneeling down, looking at the sky levels when I heard the ‘nothing to do with money’ comment. What really didn’t help was that I had played a game of ‘spot the sponsor’ bingo watching an interview with Senna on Sky News. On my cards I had Gillette, Embratel, Head and Shoulders, OGX.... a big list of all the sponsors that joined Renault once Senna got the race drive last year. Guess what, full house! I don’t think it would be ‘balderdash and piffle’ to suggest they did not move to Williams purely out of an altruistic desire to return Sir Frank’s men to World Championship glory.....

Indeed. But all such tomfoolery, while a bit wacky in places, is all TOO believable in the context of modern day Formula One. But what did give the ‘Is It Just Me’ moment was a number of comments from journalists and on forums that it was a really great thing to see the Senna name back in Formula One. And for that matter there were many of the same happy welcomes for Williams running the ‘retro’ Rothmans style livery last year. I come to this from being a fan who was very fortunate to get into Formula One during the Senna/Prost/Mansell/Piquet ‘golden era’, and even had the great fortune of seeing Prost and Senna race live. Even now, I still can’t truly believe what happened to Ayrton Senna that awful day in 1994, and question myself ‘did it happen’ when it comes up in writings about the sport. That year started with Ayrton Senna taking pole for the first race, and Nigel Mansell winning the last one, seemingly standard for the ‘golden era’, but in reality, amongst the various awful things that happened that year, the golden era was definitively shattered, the number two Williams evoking enormous sadness, as it marks the passing of the golden era, and the very last milestones of two superlative racing drivers. Notwithstanding the superb and dramatic championships Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve achieved in Rothmans livery, and the maiden race victories of David Coulthard and Heinz Harald Frentzen, I associate the Rothmans livery with sadness more than anything. Also, I’m not in the camp that said it was one of the outstanding liveries anyway – I thought what Rothmans did with the Porsche sportscars in the 1980’s was far more effective!

Therefore, I was a bit confused by the widespread acclaim of Williams bringing back the Rothmans livery last year, with some of the sad memories it engenders. Maybe it shows my age (or how young a tod I was when I started following motorsport!) that I can’t see it from the perspective of those who only remember that glorious morning in Suzuka Damon carried home the World Championship, the sizzling afternoon in Jerez Villeneuve faced down thuggery from Schumacher, and so forth. For me the livery I remember with childlike enthusiasm is the Camel/Canon one from the 1980’s and early 1990’s. My goodness, what a good looking vibrant car! It just really WORKED to my eyes. And it brings to mind one of the most dominant high tech and brilliant cars, the FW14B. And I was fortunate to see its successor the FW15C, race live (and see it again 18 years on at Goodwood a few months ago). For me this livery is prettier, and evokes great memories of an era where Williams blitzed everybody, took a massive tumble off the cliff for their Nakajima point of principle, and then relentlessly, determinedly fought their way back to the top, partnering with Renault to overcome the powerful starship McLaren International/Honda/Marlboro, while unleashing Adrian Newey on a top Formula One team for the first time. Fantastic! And this livery would also be appropriate to Williams’ strongly South American flavour. White, yellow and blue wouldn’t be totally incongruous to the mix of colours in the Brazilian and Venezuelan flags, and could be easily tweaked to satisfy ‘the corporates’ and purist fans nicely.

As for Senna going to Williams, it does make me feel a bit weird. I am very glad to see him stay in the sport, and love the Senna name being back on the leaderboard, but Williams.....not so much for memories of the accident, but maybe just because it is so sad thinking of all the great achievements Ayrton Senna could have had at Williams, and the sense of unfufillment with Williams and the Senna name. Maybe it would be more....comfortable, if Bruno was going to McLaren, where Ayrton Senna won so much, and left us with that wonderful memory of beating Prost one final time in Adelaide in the red and white McLaren. With Williams, sadly he never had the time (and with his brilliance and the quality of the team behind him, surely all it would have needed was time) to carve the same wonderful memories in the minds of motorsport fans all around the world. Maybe it is just nerves that Bruno is going to a team where the Senna name did not have success. Maybe this is something that will dispel as time goes on, and of course what would help is if he achieves really good results, and helps Williams get moving towards the front again. Indeed, if that happened, it would probably turn into a wonderful story, and be such a heartening thing to see the Senna name achieve success. But until then – ‘is it just me’?