Formula Fun

1st July 2014

Ah, the British Grand Prix. So many great memories – well, except that time Andrea Moda sent yours truly out to qualify on a dry track with our cunning development tweak of wet tyres. Funny enough, I failed to qualify. However, I do look back and smile. OK, I might need two bottles of wine and a whisky chaser before I smile...

There are many things dear to me about our home Grand Prix but there is one particular thing – well, one name actually – that personally comes to mind more than any other: Murray Walker.

Highly knowledgeable about our sport and totally committed to it, the man is a legend. Years after retiring he remains the world’s most beloved and entertaining motor sport commentator.

‘Entertainment’ is the buzz phrase at the moment and this fella gave it to us in bucket loads. He was, of course, highly excitable. Clive James once wrote: ‘Even in moments of tranquility, Murray Walker sounds like a man whose trousers are on fire’. Yes, his unbridled enthusiasm was and is contagious, but he wasn’t perfect and thank goodness he wasn’t because sometimes when the action got hot Murray would totally overheat and the resulting mayhem was endearing.

In fact, I have found an old commentary transcript between Murray and Martin Brundle which I would like to share with you. Actually, I’m lying. I made it up for entertainment.

When reading, try to imagine our Murray’s voice, it’ll help. Or try two bottles of wine with a whisky chaser.

MW: It’s Ralph Schumacher!

MB: Actually Murray, it’s Verstappen.

MW: That’s right, it’s just happened! Here at the British Grand Prix on the fabulous island of Monaco…

MB: It’s the Austrian Grand Prix.

MW: It sure is the Austrian’s Grand Prix and just look at Niki Lauda go!

MB:  Lauda’s retired Murray.

MW: Poor, poor Niki Lauda retires from the Belgian Grand Prix with engine failure. What do you think James?

MB: I’m Martin, James is no longer with us.

MW: So, while we wait for James to get back, it’s all action here in Italy as we watch Damon Hill, the illegitimate son of the England Rugby Captain Will Carling…

MB: Well Damon’s just taken the lead, unless he pits.

MW: Yes, Alesi pits! Jean Alesi pits!

MB: Oh God, I said unless he pits. Whatever works!

MW: Not whatever works James, it’s Alexander Wurz, the young Austrian from Poland. But now look! That’s Schumacher pitting, followed by Hill and Hӓkkinen and Coulthard. It’s going to be a desperate scramble as they all race in together to make an extremely late pitstop!

MB:  They’ve all gone in because the race has finished!

Obviously I’m teasing. Murray, thank you for the memories and adding so much to our enjoyment.

Going too far

Back to that word ‘entertainment’. Yes, it’s being taken seriously because F1 is losing viewers and several proposals have recently been discussed on how to improve the overall spectacle. I’m thinking though, who in F1 will create Formula Fun? The paddock isn’t exactly littered with song and dance acts. Maybe a new light-hearted ‘F1 detailed strategy for entertainment working group’ chaired by Professor Heinz von Chuckle will be formed and team managers will arrive for meetings on a unicycle.

You want new ideas? Well the floodlit Singapore night race is pretty good but how about, once every five laps, we turn the lights out for a while? They’re also talking about under floor titanium skid plates to bring back showering sparks. Hey! Why stop there? Let’s introduce different coloured dye to the exhaust stream like the Red Arrows. Then add some cute software which opens the DRS and chucks party glitter out over the following driver.

Come on guys, really? If the cars spark then they spark, but don’t add it on as a cheap trick. I do, however, like the new standing restarts after safety car periods for next year. It’s not false. It can be accepted as part of racing. Don’t get tempted to throw yellow flags every eight minutes though.

Core values

But just maybe we could also have a look at some of the core things we used to have.

Let’s go back to steel brakes to give us more overtaking zones! Can we please reduce downforce so we can more visibly enjoy heart-stopping, on the edge acrobatics from our gifted drivers? Can we please acknowledge motor racing is dangerous and bring the spectators and grandstands somewhere within the same postcode as the track? And, although I agree with the new engines, I am amongst the international chorus shouting we need our engine sound back!

Part of my attraction to Grand Prix racing has been its violence to the senses; the terrifying noise and speed, feeling the challenge and the danger. But that’s diluted with run-off strips longer than Heathrow.

We’ve also had the spectre of a Spanish Inquisition for a whole bunch of minor racing incidents, immediately followed by driver punishments ranging from a five-place grid penalty to three years hard labour in Siberia. And what’s worse is a lot of the drivers seem to have completely fallen in to this blame culture. ‘Sir, sir, he touched my front wing end plate, he did. He’s a maniac!’

Frankly, it’s not what we’re looking for and it’s not what we had from men and fighters like Keke Rosberg, Alan Jones, Jody Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve, to mention just a few. However, this custom has undoubtedly been created and fostered by officialdom. Hopefully they will not be on the entertainment strategy working group.

Am I old school? Well when it comes to this then yes I am. But I’m not alone. Niki Lauda believes that too much regulation has taken away the impression of F1 drivers as gladiators and that has become a major turn-off for fans: “The public leaves us because we are not racers anymore.”

The good news is, it appears racers such as Bernie and Charlie Whiting agree – so maybe we’re soon going to see a few fireproof sleeves rolled up and the occasional bit of paintwork swapped. Niki wants ‘gladiators’. So do I. Look at that and we’ll be a long way down the road to regaining lost ground.

This could really work. The possibilities are huge; Gladiator star Russell Crowe could adjust his famous monologue to fit: “My name is Lewisus Carlius Hamiltus, driver of Mercedes, winner of races, champion of the world. I will have my vengeance.” Then, with emotion building, standing alone in the paddock, looking out to the grandstands and up to the cameras he presents Nico’s glove and shouts “are you not entertained?!”

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