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’?