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F1 Opinion Newsletter 79

“Any idiot can block…”

Spa 1955.

In the early laps of the Belgian Grand Prix, behind the Mercedes W196s of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, Lancia’s Eugenio Castellotti and Ferrari’s Giuseppe Farina are scrapping over third place, and it is very much the F1 apprentice against the proud veteran. Castellotti is young, perhaps a little too eager, Farina already 48, at the tail-end of a distinguished career.

nigel newsletter opinion  Any idiot can block...

A great driver Farina undoubtedly was, and a beautiful stylist with it, but there was also a less palatable side to the man: he was singularly ruthless at a time when ‘dirty driving’, as Stirling Moss and others used to call it, was most uncommon, not least perhaps because the consequence of an accident back then was so often fatal.

On one lap at Spa, Denis Jenkinson told me, Farina narrowly led Castellotti out of La Source, but as they headed down the hill – where the pits and start-finish line used to be – the Lancia jinked right, trying to pass the Ferrari before Eau Rouge. Instantly Farina moved the same way, edging Castellotti ever closer to the pits – where there was no barrier, of course, and where mechanics were standing. Jenks was in someone’s pit at the time, standing on the wall, and he described it as a moment of pure horror – and a miracle that no one was killed.

Farina had done it without a thought – but then this was the same man who had impatiently turfed Marcel Lehoux’s ERA off the road, while lapping it en route to victory in the one-off Deauville Grand Prix in 1936. Lehoux was killed.

nigel newsletter opinion  Any idiot can block...

Moss said that Farina was unusual in that era of motor racing. There were others, too, who were less than ‘clean’ – including one or two British household names – but none as brutal and uncompromising as the man forever remembered as the sport’s first World Champion.

In those times, of course, Grand Prix racing was unrecognisably different from the way it is today. Even in the event of a fatal accident, even when a circuit was effectively blocked by wreckage – as at Monaco in 1950 – there was never any question of stopping a race. It wasn’t until ’52 that crash helmets were made compulsory, not until 1966 – after his accident at Spa – that Jackie Stewart pioneered safety belts in F1 cars. Fatal accidents were frequent, and Stirling concedes that the dangers undeniably instilled a discipline in the drivers; beyond that, though, he insists that back then there was a certain etiquette in motor racing – call it ‘sportsmanship’, if you like, as quaintly old-fashioned as the word sounds in the 21st century.

Fundamentally, that held true for a very long time. In the early ‘70s a somewhat inconsequential driver named Mike Beuttler was known in the business as ‘Blocker’ because he was notoriously difficult to pass (more usually to lap), frequently moving over on faster drivers. The very fact that he acquired such a nickname shows how untypical were his track manners back then.

nigel newsletter opinion  Any idiot can block...

I will always think of September 25, 1988 in Estoril as the day everything began to change. Ayrton Senna led the first lap of the Portuguese Grand Prix, but at the end of it his McLaren team-mate Alain Prost pulled out to pass him – and as he did so, Senna swerved right, moving Prost dangerously close to the pit wall. Alain didn’t lift, and went on to win the race, but afterwards he confessed that he had been shaken by Ayrton’s move. So were all who witnessed it – and why? Because we had never seen the like of it before.

That was nearly a quarter of a century ago, and although Michael Schumacher was widely criticised for a similar move on Rubens Barrichello at the Hungaroring in 2010, it has now long been the norm for Grand Prix drivers to ‘protect their position’ by chopping across the nose of a would-be overtaker – indeed, while it may not be actually enshrined in the rules, it is tacitly acceptable these days to make ‘one move’ to block the path of a faster car behind you.

No one, least of all myself, wants to see F1 become soft. It is the summit of motor racing, featuring the best drivers on earth, and hardly a place for ‘after you, Claude’. It should always be tough and hard – but so should it always be fair. I thought Gilles Villeneuve the perfect exponent of this: watch again his battle with Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979, and you will see that neither man, down the long pit straight, ever changed his line to block his rival. Indeed, Gilles was contemptuous of that sort of driving: “Any idiot can block,” he said.

nigel newsletter opinion  Any idiot can block...

Be that as it may, the culture now – ironically in this safety-obsessed age – is very different, so that blocking has become a way of life, and not anything that attracts criticism, let alone opprobrium, unless it’s extreme, as with Schumacher in Hungary.

It seems to me that as soon as you say ‘one move’ is permissible, you’re going to have problems, not least because some drivers appear to have a problem in counting. And what it has inevitably done is lead to lots of silly accidents or near-misses, all of which are these days instantly investigated by the stewards, advised by an ex-F1 driver such as Derek Warwick.

After taking out Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix, Romain Grosjean was handed a one-race ban by the stewards, and thus missed Monza. Had it been the first such happening, Grosjean might have got away with a grid penalty at the next race, but it was not: Romain has been mighty quick this year, but also – too often – mighty wild, not least in the opening seconds of a race. A problem that was displayed once again at the first corner of the Japanese Grand Prix, when he slammed into the back of Webber while he was “looking at Perez”. In Warwick’s opinion, the stewards had been entirely right in their decision on the Spa incident, and he said he was in favour of a ‘points system’, in which a driver incurred a certain number of points for a misdemeanour: when these reached a certain total within a certain time, a one-race ban would automatically follow. [Click here to listen to our podcast with Derek.]

nigel newsletter opinion  Any idiot can block...

Unquestionably drivers pull stunts today that would once – for reasons of simple self-preservation, let alone ethics – have been unthinkable, which is why the stewards are so often pressed into service. ‘Investigation into incident between cars X and Y’…  how often these days we see such messages on the TV screens in the press room, and there invariably follows another, notifying us all of a ‘drive through’ penalty for one of the parties involved.

I found it interesting that the instant conclusion of many, following the multiple accident at Spa, was that ‘closed cockpits’ were now an inevitability in F1. Apart from the fact that such things would, in my opinion, cut across the whole ethos of what a Grand Prix car is supposed to be, it seemed to me that a more sensible plan in the short term would be to introduce effective mirrors – as Grosjean pointed out, the tiny things in use at the moment are virtually useless – and, even more fundamentally, to get it across to certain drivers that they should stop behaving like lunatics, both at the start and after.

Personally, I hate the ‘penalties’ syndrome, which has lately mushroomed in motor racing – particularly the loss of grid positions for engine or gearbox changes, when the only person who suffers is the blameless driver. But when it comes to punishment for plainly dangerous driving, that’s a different matter, and perhaps, if the thing had been nipped in the bud – as it should have been – at Estoril 24 years ago, we might have less of a problem today than we do. Gilles was indeed right: “Any idiot can block…”

Add your comments

79 comments on “Any idiot can block…”

  1. Dr. Frank Celenza, 10 October 2012 13:51

    I couldn’t agree more, any idiot can block, and for that reason I never liked Schublocker. As for these dumb penalties, they ruin the race. Crashing out is it’s own punishment, let the drivers race. Assessment should be applied for the next race, and Grosjean deserved another one for ruining Suzuka.

  2. Paul Tarsey, 10 October 2012 14:05

    Thanks Nigel for an excellent piece. Isn’t it about time that the Senna myth was finally proved to be just that .. a myth. The man did a huge amount to damage our sport, with his aggressive, dangerous driving, his selfish, single minded personality and his high handed and arrogant manner. Instead of being lauded (ironically now frequently by people who never saw him race) isn’t it about time we see him for the negative influence on our sport which he truly was?

  3. John Patterson, 10 October 2012 14:13

    “Chopping” across an opponent’s bow should be outlawed, and punishable with suspensions. Its not a matter of etiquette, its a matter of racing ethics and simply another form of cheating.

    Grid penalties for engine and transmission replacements should be eliminated…most unreasonable FIA rule ever. Supposedly this rule was championed by the team owners as one means of controlling costs. I doubt that any team owner can show a clear budget reduction attributable to it.

  4. Paul Sainsbury, 10 October 2012 14:15

    Excellent article, as always, Nigel.

    I remember that Senna move and the shock at caused. It is indeed true that perhaps if it had not been overlooked back then, we might have a more sensible situation now.

    Nonetheless, I think most at the sharp end of the grid are pretty fair on the track. Witness the respect shown by Lewis and Kimi during their little battle this past Sunday, for example. Thankfully, not all current drivers are regularly performing the ‘Vettle-chop’, and those that do not should be given credit for that.

  5. Bob Graham, 10 October 2012 14:36

    At the start of the 1990 Japanese GP I know that Senna was out of joint about the ’89 “incident” and his position on the grid, (of course the acclaimed film constantly cast him as “innocent victim”) but his ramming of Prost on the first lap was the most ruthless move I ever witnessed in an F1 race. What’s more he seemed defiant and unrepentant in subsequent interviews. My respect for him as a driver was forever mitigated by that savagery. Worse, his tactics seem to have influenced Michael Schumacher, who toyed with others’ lives and limbs on numerous, well-documented occasions.

  6. Stan Skarzynski, 10 October 2012 14:37

    Thanks for a super article. As Fangio (the greatest ever) was getting his fourth world championship (consecutive) I was winning my second rally champioship. Stirling (I am proud to say) is a great friend and these two men are and always have been my icons. Thanks again

  7. Rob Marsh, 10 October 2012 14:46

    I watched that Portuguese race live on TV here in SA. I was sure that Prost moved across on Senna first before he retaliated but to confirm read the report from that year’s Autocourse. “Another parade lap and finally, the green light. Senna made the better start but Prost was moving across and showing every intention of taking the line into the first corner. It was Senna, however who turned in first but this no-holds-barred struggle proved to be for nothing. There was another restart. “Now we had a repeat of the first start -only this time Prost ran Senna that bit closer to the edge. The Brazilian may not have been amused but he was not put off and chopped across his team-mate to take the lead.” The report then goes into a more detailed account of how Prost then came back at Senna and how he pushed Prost very close to the wall. My point is that Prost initiated the whole thing – I remember being quite angry at the time when he did it- but as I have said before on this forum, the only way to avoid being bullied is to come back harder than the person doing the bullying. This Senna unquestionably did and Prost didn’t like it and whinged like hell afterwards as if he was the innocent victim. Prost was a very political guy and was very clever at deflecting blame, ask Mansell. In any case I don’t condone either of the driver’s actions then or now but think that things should be reported fairly. Prost and Senna should both have been pulled up in front of the stewards on that day and penalised.

  8. Adam Artis, 10 October 2012 14:46

    Well said!

  9. Thane Bruckland, 10 October 2012 15:03

    Racing should be hard but fair. Reports from all the greatest races tell of how one driver left just enough space for the other to get by – making the overtake possible, not easy but possible if you were good enough. It is all about respect for your peers as well as belief in your ability. I agree that the concept of immortality has increased complacent risk taking by certain drivers. No one wants to see a return to such horrific death rates of the past but even in this ‘safe’ era things can and do go wrong – Alonso was lucky – Dan Wheldon wasn’t (in Indycar). Drivers should not be too complacent and the ruling body should not over react after every freak accident. Motor racing will always have an element of danger as it is a high speed sport. Safety has improved greatly and should always be of premium concern but closed/caged cockpits of F1 cars is surely a step too far.

  10. Pat Kenny, 10 October 2012 15:06

    I am not sure these things start at the top level of the sport. Certainly I will allow that if they are tolerated at the top they will be magnified in the lower formulae. Since the early 80s the main source of F1 drivers has been Karting. I am no expert on Karting but it would be interesting to see what the accepted norm has been there.

    I recently watched an important British lower formula race weekend where I ended up looking at the TV through my fingers. The amount of dangerous, aggressive chopping was such that if it had happened in F1 there would be an enormous outcry. One racer, in particular, struck me as almost deranged when threatened with being passed. He ended up as series champion.

    Wherever it came from it needs to be addressed at all levels of the sport. If we were to see the Estoril move pulled today we would hardly notice it had happened.

    BTW, in the interest of full disclosure I always preferred Senna but don’t think that a useful discussion on this can emerge if we start from the most toxic schism ever at the top of our sport.

  11. Nick Planas, 10 October 2012 15:24

    Estoril 1988 is one of the many reasons why I will always view Jim Clark as a greater driver than Senna; I always admired Senna as a driver, but not as a sportsman – likewise Schumacher. It would have been totally against Clark’s character to block anyone faster than him – I wonder how horrified he would be at this sort of behaviour if he were still with us. I can’t comment on Fangio, Moss, Nuvolari, and others as I didn’t see them race, but I’ve watched every top F1 driver since the ’60s.

    As for mirrors – with all this technology we have, surely it must be imperative to have a standard EFFECTIVE mirror size and position – heavens knows why it never has been before. The fact that it will interfere with their nice slippery airflow will provoke the top engineers into finding novel ways to reduce the drag and introduce another small but important variable into the mix.

    I was slightly disturbed by one thing Grosjean said which was that he was surprised at how much slower Webber was going than he and Perez. Had he not noticed the approaching corner which Webber was turning into…?

  12. Carlos Sanchez, 10 October 2012 15:27

    Absolutely not Paul. If we go like that then what about Villeneuve, except maybe because he didn’t succeed that much, we all tend to feel more sympathy for. So don’t be a hypocratic about it all, they are competitors, fighters of our era, gladiators, and that’s fine with me.

  13. Gerard Furlong, 10 October 2012 15:45

    Any idiot can block but it takes a true bureaucracy to legitimize it.

    Senna should have been dealt with in the 80′s and 90′s. Schumacher should have been dealt with in the 90′s. If they had been dealt with properly then we would not have the legacy of the Chop and one move allowed to run someone off the track.

    Instead we have inconsistent penalties being applied inconsistently and always mutterings of favourtism whenever it involves a red car.

  14. Bob Kindred, 10 October 2012 15:46

    Excellent article Nigel. I agree with Nick Planas and can’t understand why the FIA won’t mandate bigger mirrors for 2013 (although certain drivers might need to learn how to use them) and no doubt clever engineers could use this to their aerodynamic advantage?

  15. jose, 10 October 2012 15:49

    i was in estoril that year. A typical prost race, very boring except for the fight between senna and mansell. But nigel, you forgot to mention at suzuka 1988, when senna was catching prost for the lead, after a miserable start, the french driver, tried to squeeze him into the pit wall. In my book he drew first blood.

  16. Keith Kenyon, 10 October 2012 15:52

    Surely the rule should be once you have chosen your line through a corner stick to it? Driving defensively does not mean drive dangerously.

    One further point on this. Did Senna fear or respect Mansell more than he did Prost. Maybe the scuffle they had in the pit lane at Spa in 1987 helped in getting the message across as far as Mansell was concerned. After that I do not remember any of the close racing between Mansell and Senna involving dangerous blocking. The unforgettable driving by both of them down the straight at Barcelona in 1991 could have ended in disaster if one of them had done something stupid.

  17. hamfan, 10 October 2012 15:52

    Agree with Pat Kenney. Unfortunately, Paul Tarsey lays blame in the wrong place, as so many do. Senna made the move on Prost. It wasn’t punished. A lot of similar stuff mushroomed after that, until we reach today, where were I ever to see Vettel lead off from pole in a straight line instead of chopping straight across P2′s bow, I’d drop my beer in surprise.

    The blame, if you (we) don’t like it, lies totally and utterly, 100 per cent, at the feet of the authorities. Drivers will risk/get away with whatever they see as giving themselves an advantage. To ‘blame’ Senna or Schuey (or Vettel) for being testosterone-fuelled alphas, wanting to win, and using every single weapon in the armoury (including intimidation) to try and achieve the win or gain position, is silly. Senna could (perhaps should) have been stopped. Ditto for Schuey and everyone since. The drivers are totally innocent. Blame the stewards.

    Personally, I can handle it if the drivers say they can. I’ve not really heard much protesting from them about the ‘one move’ rule. I’d leave it to them. Starts, though, are often messy and, if the faves are taken out, ruin a race, so one thing I would like to see is a straight drag to the first corner turn-in, with drivers only allowed to swerve to avoid slower cars ahead (eg. swerve right or left to avoid, but then keep the same line) with none of the ‘looking for space’ excuses.

    And yes, it seems too obvious, doesn’t it, but making functional mirrors compulsory surely cannot be beyond the intelligence of the rule makers…

  18. hamfan, 10 October 2012 16:03

    PS. Maldo’s in-car temper tantrums are the biggest danger to others in today’s F1. If the stewards aren’t going to slam down on someone who uses his car to petulantly swipe into competitors’ in qually and practice, as he did in Spa last year and Monaco this, then they’re really not going to sort out anything.

    I’d like to see one single ‘umpire’, the same guy at every race, for consistency’s sake, allowed to judge things just as a tennis umpire or footy ref does. Having ex drivers’ input helps, perhaps, but I suspect their varied personalities (and the eras they raced in) adds to inconsistency – eg. Alan Jones saw nothing wrong with Vettel’s ridiculous cut across Jenson (at Suzuka, I think), and that cannot be put down to anything other than a) Alan has a macho image to maintain, and b) he’s been away from the game a very long time.

    Just one umpire. Or panel of three judges, same three every race, perhaps including one ex-driver. Job done.

    But let’s stop talking about drivers as if they’re going to (or as if they should) start policing themselves.

  19. dave cubbedge, 10 October 2012 16:17

    Jose, wasn’t Suzuka 1988 after Estoril that season? Senna made his pit wall move on Prost a month before Suzuka.

  20. JCR, 10 October 2012 16:29

    Good piece Nigel and something that many of us have debated over the years. I quite frankly find it unfathomable that some on here cannot see the difference between hard racing and “dirty” driving, let alone something akin to psychopathic tendencies. From his time in the early formulae Senna was known for his attitude of get out of my way or we crash. Martin Brundle can speak of that after being deposited on top of a Marshalls post at Cadwell Park in their F3 days.
    Many seem to forget that he came into F1 with that reputation and tried it on with many other drivers long before Portugal 1988. However when he tried it on with Keke Rosberg in1985 he somewhat bit of more than he could chew. I well remember the European GP at Brands Hatch when Keke went up the inside of Senna on lap one. Only to get chopped into a spin which cost Keke a certain race win, however during a stunning comeback drive the Finn administered the best admonishing overtake I had seen in years when he came upon Senna a second time
    The authorities must take the blame for the drastic fall in driving standards that largely emerged in the 1980’s. If the culprits had been dealt with at the time we would not witness the gross driving standards of today.
    In closing it amazes me that anyone can even mention the likes of Senna & Schumacher in the same breath as Jim Clark. Fact is Jim was so darn good he didn’t need to do anything underhand and better still he would have been appalled at the thought of pulling strokes like those two.

  21. Stuart Sampson, 10 October 2012 16:36

    Quite right. Very interesting article. With particular reference to Gilles and Rene at Dijon, perhaps these less sporting drivers such as Maldonado and Big John should be made to sit and watch that race ‘ here son’ Jean Todt could impart, ‘that’s how real racing drivers behave’

  22. Rich Ambroson, 10 October 2012 16:46

    Paul Tarsey, 100% agreed. Portugal, 1988 should have resulted in a one race ban for Senna. At the very least.

  23. Rich Ambroson, 10 October 2012 16:48

    And even more thanks to Nigel for this piece, and contrasting Senna’s approach with that of Gilles Villeneuve’s. Gilles was indeed the most exciting racer to watch, and was a tough competitor, yet he also inspired tough guys like Keke Rosberg and Alan Jones to note how fair but tough he was.

    Gilles should be the example young drivers emulate, not Senna. A shame things are so 180 from ideal…

  24. Stuart Sampson, 10 October 2012 16:54

    I find the inconsistency of the investigations very troubling, Bahrain comes to mind with Nicos moves on Lewis and Alonso. Alonso was deemed not to be alongside enough for it to be a bad move on Nicos part and Lewis critiqued for passing whilst off track when surely in both instances Nico was at fault for exiting a high speed corner as immediately sweeping across track to the offline position with the sole purpose at any cost to block a faster car, and given his frequent previous actions the stewards should have looked at te level of intent not just the actual events. Nico has done this sorry of thing a lot yet seems to fly under the radar compared to Roman and Pastor when it comes to penalties.

    I tend to agree with Nigel that penalties for trivial things such as gearboxes suck, but Derek Warwicks points system is a must, as stewards should also be able to consider points, previous incidents, and intent when investigating race incidents.

    I also don’t agree that an incident which, for example Lewis and Kobiashi at spa 2011, should be investigated after the race. If the driver who caused it, in that instance Kobiashi is not the one in the tyre wall why are they able to continue to race and possible cause more accidents?

    I’d love to see F1 as competitive as Kart racing but if we are ever to have the fantastic close racing these new regs and tyres are capable of producing then we need to expel the idiots who ultimately ruining a good race, as long as politics, favouritism and prejudice are kept out of the investigations.

  25. Stuart Sampson, 10 October 2012 17:02

    @Rich Ambrose.

    That was era. I grew up on the memory of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart but My first live GP was gilles Villeneuves debut at Silverstone in 1976 (?) Gilles was in the #33 McLaren. He’d spun early but was third on the road behind Hunt and Lauda and was the only driver to stay with them.

    From that day I was a Gilles fan.

    The saddest part of the Villeneuve story is ultimately it was a lack of sportsmanship, the betrayal by his team mate at Imola which led to his death at Zolder .

  26. james White, 10 October 2012 17:22

    I agree that penalising the drivers for engine or gearbox changes seemsto be punishining the innocent party – or is their lack of machanical sympathy at least partly to blame . . .

    Surely it would be more logical to deduct championship points from the constructors, although a single failure could then cost a struggling junior team dear when the cash is dealt out at the end of the season . . .


  27. Richard Kirby, 10 October 2012 17:22

    How true about blocking. It has become the norm for drivers to change their line, particularly at the start, to stop anyone else getting past. It used to be the case that the aim was to get to the first corner before anyone else, not stopping someone else doing so. No-one ever says after a race “did you see how x kept y behind for lap after lap, wasn’t that great!” If someone is faster, they need to be in front, so stick to the racing line and if the other guy gets past, that’s the whole point of the exercise,.

  28. Dave Etges, 10 October 2012 17:30

    Blocking will become less of an issue if the penalty for it is increased. A 10 race ban and loss of salary might get an “idiot’s ” attention!

  29. Mike Byron, 10 October 2012 17:42

    I totally agree with you about these penalties for such as engine and geerbox changes, all this does is ‘manipulate’ the racing, in my view there is no place for this in Grand Prix racing. Equally there should be no place for the intimidating tactics used by most notably by messrs Senna and Schumacher. I am sure you were correct in suggesting that had Ayrton Senna’s move on Alain Prost at Estoril been properly dealt with the standard of driving we now have would very likely be of a higher standard than we have seen in recent seasons. I noticed that shortly following this move by Senna the ‘coming men’ in junior formula took on a less compromising standards and it became the norm to force rivals off the track. I also recall that Senna showed his intent to drive so appallingly while racing in F3, I was perplexed then that the ‘powers that be’ allowed him to get away with such driving.

  30. Keith Kenyon, 10 October 2012 17:47

    My Hyundai SUV has a camera in the back that shows up in the rear view mirror and helps with reversing. Maybe a camera facing backwards with a small screen that is easily viewed by the driver should be considered as a support for the mirrors.

  31. Pat O'Brien, 10 October 2012 17:55

    I anyone aware of a Farina bio? He is about the only F1 champ I don’t have a book for.

  32. john moulds, 10 October 2012 18:17

    The rule is clear. It says “manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers ……… are strictly prohibited.” In the middle of this sentence is a list of examples of such prohibited manoeuvres: “such as more than one change of direction to defend a position, deliberate crowding…. or any other abnormal change of direction,…”. Nowhere does it say that one change of direction is allowed. Thus any blocking manoeuvre is prohibited.

    It is the interpretation of the rule which is at fault and unfortunately race officials are entitled to interpret rules as they see fit. Particularly if it is convenient to justify the “manoeuvres” of prominent drivers whom it would be contentious to penalize; e.g Michael Schumacher.

  33. Denis, 10 October 2012 18:19

    I fully agree with the sentiment of the article. But I find it quite astonishing that nobody seems to notice that the only reason Perez didn’t hit Webber at Suzuka is that Mark ‘chopped’ across the track to the right while slowing down on the corner exit with the two cars behind him were accelerating out of it side-by-side. There so much ‘inertia’ in the perception of everything Grosjean does after Spa, that he may as well retire from racing. Any contact will automatically be his fault.

  34. wayne wachtell, 10 October 2012 18:37

    nice and very interesting article! really liked the info on farina as there has been little written about him in the past! well done
    always like to read things about people I never knew before!

  35. Nigel Gardener, 10 October 2012 18:43

    Absolutely correct. F1 is the pinnacle of the sport and the best drivers should be just that – not the dirtiest. Senna demeaned both his own skills and the sport as a whole by his arrogant and childish attitude to other competitors and authority. He should have let his skill do the talking. I also agree that drivers should not be penalised for mechanical problems with unscheduled engine and gearbox changes – the constructors should be penalised as they are the ones responsible for the failure, not the driver.

  36. George Grazebrook, 10 October 2012 18:59

    I’m fed up with the stewards applying minor penalties – though I gather they have no other power.

    I suggest that the penalty for such as the ‘grosjean’s mentioned, the penalty should be either a 5 or 10 grid place penalty (depending on severity), PLUS the application of a further 3 ‘point’ penalty, added to any other outstanding ‘points’.

    When the total ‘points’ exceeds 7 (ie three ‘grosjeans’) the points MUST be reduced to zero, at the rate of 3 points per race exclusion (car and driver) – ie a minimum of a 3 race exclusion.

    Any outstanding points at the end of a season would be rolled over to the next season, but expire after 3 races in the next season.

    Should a driver not continue in F1 the next season, the points outstanding MUST be paid off at the rate of 100,000 Euros per point, failing to pay off the points would result in the loss of the drivers Super License, and the suspension of his/her racing license permantly.

    I suspect that the driver would immediately pay attention – and the team would not take the position ‘that it is the driver’s prpoblem as Lotus seem to be doing now.

  37. Forshage, 10 October 2012 19:10

    Until the penalty for blocking is greater than the benefit of blocking, it will continue to happen. In the old days, people did not block because they might end up dead, or cause somebody else to be dead, or somebody might beat them half to death for doing it.
    Therefore, a penalty something like if you block and cause an accident, the person you block gets points for what ever position you were in at the time and you get none for the race. Blocking would quickly go away.
    Tell me how you will measure me, and I will tell you how I will act.
    This applies to most things.

  38. Chris Hall, 10 October 2012 19:23

    Only fair to point out that Farina didn’t actually win the 1936 Deauville GP, he himself was injured in the accident. Brief footage of the race here ( warning it includes includes the latter stages of the accident ).

    As JCR pointed out, Senna was pulling all sorts of silly moves on Brundle ( & Davy Jones ) during the 1983 F3 season particularly at Oulton and Snetterton. At Cadwell however he overdid it at the Mountain during practice and ploughed into the marshalls post himself rather than putting Martin into it, consequently non starting the race. Perhaps if the British authorities had clamped down on his driving during that season…………

    I didn’t seen any of his FF2000 races the previous year but would be interested to know if he employed the same tactics then particularly on Calvin Fish who I think was his main oppostion

  39. Donald N. Mei, 10 October 2012 19:36

    Good article. Some of my friends dont understand why I have no respect for Senna.’Ill have them read your piece. when someone of his ability drives the way he did, every up and coming younger driver in every formula or race series immediately rationalizes his own stupid behavior.

  40. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 10 October 2012 19:39

    Nice article Nigel, some points may be made from it…
    A back-marker blocking tha race leader has nothing to do with racing nor sportsmanship and is plain stupidity, but when one driver block another in the same lap it allows some other analysis.
    At the start of F1 there seemed to be an unwritten rule according to which the faster driver deserved to be in front, so the slower ones acknowledged that and gave way. Gentleman drivers’ education saw no point in saving the position at all costs, which would risk an accident, fair play and sportsmanship being important to them. But with time this custom got considered outmoded and as “lack of fight spirit”, a small number of brave ones appearing which saw racing not as a sport but a battle instead, and so blocking and intimidation became their resources.
    Before Portugal ’88 Regazzoni had already starred some annoying incidents, and a taste of things to come was Canada ’80 when the WDC got settled the worst way with no corrective action taking place. After that came Senna’s incidents and next Australia ’94 again settling the WDC with no corrective actions, which lead to Australia and Jerez in 1997 when Schumi was penalized just because he couldn’t stop Villeneuve. Before that race everyone knew what could happen and considered this as a little “mischief”, but the end result was shocking.
    And I still wonder what could have happened if Irvine caught Hakkinen at Japan ’98…

  41. Antony Ward, 10 October 2012 22:54

    I don’t believe bigger mirrors are the answer,especially at the the start and the first few corners as the drivers must surely be concentrating 100% on the cars in front and those in their peripheral vision.It would be interesting to ask the drivers who,honestly,looked in their mirrors at the first corner after the start.As for Grosjean I would make him start from the pit lane for the rest of the season,that should keep him out of trouble!.He has probably changed the outcome of the WDC with his antics, but we will never know.
    Always thought grid penalties for engine/gearbox change were unfair to the driver but it does seem to have improved durability of these parts,think back to the days of changing engines every race,not to mention qualifying engines.
    Blocking should not be allowed at all,seems to me to be a very selfish act and only puts of the inevitable overtake(unless it happens on or near the last lap perhaps)
    Great article as usual Nigel.

  42. Tim Bailey, 10 October 2012 23:48

    It really upsets me that the FIA have introduced artificial means (KERS, DRS) to improve overtaking in Formula1. The real reason there is no overtaking is due to the “defensive driving” tactics of the drivers involved. If the driver in front allowed the overtaking driver room we would witness much more exciting racing. The last time I saw this type of driving in Formula1 was at the 2011 Korean Grand Prix. Webber was catching Hamilton for second place during the middle of the race. Both drivers gave each other room and were able to run side by side through several corners. Hamilton was able to successfully “defend” his position without the need to block. It could have been the other way round, but both drivers demonstrated their skill, which made it exciting. I concede this is much harder to do in the Pirelli tyre era due to the excess of marbles produced by the tyres.

    I can only imagine what modern Formula1 would be like if the authorities discouraged dirty driving. We would not have to endure the generic/featureless modern (aka. Tilkedrome) circuit. Which have been designed to encourage overtaking by placing slow corners before and after stupidly long straights. I much prefer the “straights” at Spa-Francorchamps, between La Source and Les Combes and Stavelot and the Chicane. Straights should be used to link the (interesting) corners and not the other way around.

    Keep up the good work MS. I wasn’t alive to witness the great drivers on the great circuits. But I feel a sense of “being there” whenever I read your magazine.

  43. Brett, 11 October 2012 00:48

    The biggest loser in the last debacle is Mark Webber.
    How does he get compensated for the 30 or more extremely vital seconds he lost?

  44. Ben Przekop, 11 October 2012 01:38

    I couldn’t help but think of the parallels between F1 and American football. As the equipment has gotten better to protect the driver or the player, the game has gotten more physical since the participants feel more “secure” in their aggressive behaviour. Back in the 50′s, football players wore simple leather helmets without faceguards, and tackling was done with shoulders and arms. Now that players wear highly protective helmets, concussions are rampant. As Nigel points out, not only was F1 more gentlemanly, much of the more mannerly driving was also out of self preservation, since any contact could lead to a very bad conclusion. In football they are now attempting to stop the more dangerous “helmet to helmet” tackles with heavy penalties and fines, and team medical protocols are much stricter about sidelining a player if there is any suspicion of a concussion. F1 needs to do the same, since throwing away the safety features of the cars and the circuits is clearly not an option, any more than returning to leather helmets makes sense in football.

  45. David Hock, 11 October 2012 03:10

    “Bureaucracy” was mentioned in an earlier post. Ditto. An increasing part of the ‘race’ these days are delayed subjective inconsistent judgements. ‘Too far over the painted line??’ etc.

    Dare Charlie and the stewards be required to be as accessible and as answerable to the press as the team managers and drivers are.

  46. Tildenld, 11 October 2012 03:14

    Grosjean’s consistently a danger to the drivers around him, but the incident in Japan was not his fault. That could have happened to anyone.

  47. David Bingham, 11 October 2012 03:39

    Five place grid drop for a new gearbox is crazy and spoils the race for driver and fans alike.
    Also the nonsense of drivers not venturing out onto the circuit in practice to save their tyre allocation. The cost of getting to the race, or even Sky fees. Sitting at the circuits recently watching a few back markers making noise is very poor reward for we punters who wish to buy three day tickets.
    Blocking is easily camouflaged by a driver making his car very wide but blatant chopping and aggressive driving is every day in the lower classes, and ruthlessly carried out and taken up the scale by the likes of Grosjean. I don’t think this man will ever learn and marked his card in his earlier F1 life when he tried to wipe we spectators out at Monaco when he drove straight into the barrier at Tabac only to be restrained by the fencing. We sit further round the corner these days.

  48. Hubertus Veldmeijer, 11 October 2012 07:14

    Again a good story, thanks Nigel. Concerning the loss of grid positions for engine or gearbox changes, this has to do with the constructor championship and has nothing to do with the driver (this day’s!), so why not take away points from there. Engine -3 points and gearbox -2 points, or what ever. This will hit the team and not the driver.

  49. John B, 11 October 2012 08:07

    Rosberg’s crushing payback on Senna at Brands in 85 is one of my favourite moments since I started following F1. I just love the idea of a grosjean scale for driving misdemeanours – brilliant

  50. Richard Craig, 11 October 2012 09:07

    I used to kart a lot with my friends when I was younger (12 years ago) and one of my friends was head and shoulders above us all in terms of talent. But he combined natural ability with this tenmdency to put people through the tyre walls if they so much as tried to draw level with him into a corner. his idol? Michael Schumacher.

  51. Richard Craig, 11 October 2012 09:10

    Oops, itchy trigger finger there, didn’t finish my post.

    Anyway, i have always abhorred this sort of behaviour – if you’re that great, your speed will deliver you victory, you don’t have to ram people off the road.
    I have never understood why people put Senna on this pedestal and forgive him his transgressions, when Schumacher is largely derided for the same sort of tactics.

  52. Tom Okany, 11 October 2012 10:08

    “Because we had never seen the like of it before.”Excellent piece as always, Nigel, but I will challenge that statement.
    The place was Mosport, the protagonists Carlos Pace and Clay Regazzoni. I’ve been trying to recall the year by process of elimination and believe it was 1977.
    The fast right hand corner 10 leads onto the short Start-Finish straight with the concrete pit wall to the right of it. The faster Pace had been closing in on Clay for several laps and the position change seemed inevitable. Carlos made the classic move to the inside and the memory of what came next is indeliby etched in my mind. Clay moved over on him and squeezed him toward the wall until Pace’s right rear glanced off of it. Crews and photographers left their spots against the wall as a wave. Incredibly it was not one smooth move by Regazzoni. It looked more like two or three discrete steps as if to send a message: “Do not try to come through here”.
    I can’t recall if or how either driver finished but I do recall reading the race report in the French magazine SportAuto months later with the translated headline from Pace: “Clay tried to kill me!”.
    Tough? Unquestionably. Fair? Hardly. It was hard to look at Regazzoni the same way after witnessing that.

  53. wolfboy, 11 October 2012 11:22

    Nice artice, Completely agree about blocking, it is ridiculous.

    As for a cure, why not consider Jacques Villeneuves suggestion and remove mirrors completely..?

    After all all they are there for is to see who is behind and ‘act accordingly..’

  54. JOE PIZZARELLO, 11 October 2012 12:10


  55. Pat Kenny, 11 October 2012 13:29

    Tom Okany provides useful background on instances from the past. In fairness to Nigel his whole article gives an historic context – there were always drivers that push things to the limit. If there was a difference from 1978 on is that all of them were seen by a global audience, which facilitated the transmission of that “meme”.

    Once a certain proportion of drivers start behaving that way is is actually a losing proposition not to join them. Jarno Trulli can probably remember the moment his front line F1 career disappeared in front of his eyes the moment he was passed into the last corner at Magny Cours.

  56. David Goddard, 11 October 2012 15:30

    Thank you Nigel for an enlightening article as always, and for a quote from Gilles to inspire and instruct – it should be included in every Racing Licence.

    To see a race ruined at the start is the most ludicrous and frustrating sight in all motor racing. ( And such a bizarre waste of the constructors’ and mechanics’ brilliant work). I agree with “hamfan” – the FIA should mandate a straight drag down towards the first corner.

    Startline/first-lap collisions just make the drivers look stupid, and effectively bring the sport into disrepute. Assuming it hasn’t been finally emasculated by CVC, the FIA needs to get a grip.

  57. chris b, 11 October 2012 20:43

    well Nigel, this certainly feels like a hot topic, knew that stuff on Farina, who I believe was as equally ruthless to fans as well, was he not?

    I saw Senna in F3 and as others bore witness his ‘winning’ mentality was ever evident, the difference between and MS is that at least Senna had charisma,

    JCR made some very valuable points and totally agree with his sentiments regarding Jimmy, I was at Brands that day in 1985 and the chop was blatant as it was stupid, and had the authorities possessed any guts Senna would have been black-flagged that day – therefore stamping out all these horrible blocking idiocies,

    watching lesser formulae i am shocked and have actually stopped going to the likes of F3 as – quite frankly the driving standards are awful and I’d rather watch motorbike racing

  58. Peter Clothier, 11 October 2012 22:23

    Surely the time has come to replace mirrors with TV cameras (situated where they have a good view) and screens (in the cockpit where the driver can see them)? There would then be no more “I couldn’/didn’t see him” excuses.
    As for driving standards, until all the stewards, and the FIA, reject the Senna / Schumacher school of driving as being completely un-acceptable and have the courage to penalise accordingly, nothing will change.
    Teams should lose points for a premature change of engine/gearbox, leaving the drivers unpenalised in whatever position they qualified. Obviously, a caveat has to be included to avoid the unlikely(?) case of a team willingly to sacrifice its own points in order to concentrate on the drivers’ championship.

  59. Robin Banks, 12 October 2012 03:56

    I say you start penalizing the sponsors big big money that put their name on the side of the car that is doing the taking out and maybe that will be the beginning of the end of that nonsense. The people paying the money think they call the shots…that’s what they think. It is high time that the sportsmanship be brought back into sport. You wanna play dirty you little raisin sack..great we will put a rifle in your hands and you can go to Iran or Afghanistan or Syria and go play rough with those boys and see how you like it.

  60. Chris Czora, 12 October 2012 08:22

    Penalising the sponsors would surely be a step in the wrong direction in my opinion… however it does bring to mind a quote from Jackie Stewart in Nigel Roebuck’s ‘Chasing the Title’, where he implies that very few people in the sport understand the implications of a *major* shunt, and the resulting desertion from sponsors and manufacturers.

    Grosjean was rightly punished for his clumsy actions in Spa, but to me he has nothing on Maldonado and his temper tantrums with Hamilton in Spa last year and Perez in Monaco. He should have been dealt with far more robustly for actions which needlessly could have endangered marshals, track workers, photographers and spectators.

    There does seem to be a prevalence of the ‘let me through or we both crash’ attitude, at the top level this could arguably have been pioneered by Senna as has been discussed, although one could argue that even in grassroots formulae young drivers are pressured into a win at all costs mentality thanks to ‘competitive Dad’ syndrome, which may have far more influence than any F1 driver.

  61. Carlos Sanchez, 12 October 2012 08:46

    Dear Nigel, I think that in your good article you’re (rather mistakenly) blowing the incident between Senna and Prost hugely out of proportion. I absolutely do not concord that Ayrton blocked Alain with that maneuver, it was intidimatory yes, but it did not block the opponent’s move one bit as Alain’s passing maneuver confirms, as well, it might not appeared appeared nice and kind, but I just think it was one of those things which look far worse than they actually are, again, as the consequences (or lack of it) proves.
    ‘Blocking’ is to me the way Prost blocked Senna’s passing maneuver at Suzuka in ’89. That! was harsh, perverse and maliciously executed, ah!… but we all let it be, because the Professor did it , and I agree, In a very delicate way, might have looked not that bad, nicely camouflaged (slower corner, very on the edge, closing just that much earlier into the corner to BLOCK your opponent, ah yes throw the stone but hide…) but effective blocking indeed!!!
    Great article though, and a good discussion with the readers I enjoy, thanks MS.

  62. Carlos Sanchez, 12 October 2012 08:49

    That maneuver in Estoril ’88, I meant, excuse me.

  63. hamfan, 12 October 2012 09:49


    I agree with you. I’ve made the point again and again that neither Senna nor Schuey are responsible for any deaths in F1 (not even sure if they caused any injuries – certainly no serious ones, at any rate). There is far more danger from bouncing wheels and mechanical failure (eg. Rubens’ spring hitting Massa) than from bad driving. Grosjean’s Spa incident came close, yes, but that was nothing to do with blocking – it was simply typical (of everyone, not just him) behavior at race starts. A start drag would eliminate such incidents, and proper consistent penalties would deter dangerous blockers/choppers. Yet nothing gets done, rule-wise, and we get a constant stream of articles telling us the drivers should be policing themselves like the ‘gentlemen’ of some rose-tinted yesteryear (where I suspect there were just as many nasty drivers, though so little film footage, making proving anything either way impossible).

  64. hamfan, 12 October 2012 09:51

    I think the press likes the current situation, gives them something to moan about and bash the current generation of drivers (one of the best ever) over the head with. When I read a Roebuck article laying into, really laying into, the FIA and Charlie and the gang, I’ll believe he’s got the guts to stick it to the right people… Not saying NR is a coward, just heavily compromised, as all F1 pundits are – the ‘owners’ of the show are very powerful, and if you depend on it for your living you’d have to be very brave to tackle them. Far easier to keep saying the drivers should be more like mythical ‘gentlemen’. As if Nigel acts, thinks, and adopts the values his own grandfather had back in 1900 or whenever..

  65. Chris Hall, 12 October 2012 20:49

    I’d always seen it reported that, when Senna pushed Prost towards the pitwall at Estoril in 1988, the main concern supposedly was that they interlinked wheels and Prost could’ve gone over the wall into the pitlane. Having seen this bit of footage, I see no evidence of that being the case and in fact feel that Senna gave Prost plenty of room. By no means am I a Senna fan as can be deduced from my earlier post but in this case I think he has been unfairly maligned.

  66. Steve W, 14 October 2012 10:53

    I like Warwick’s idea of an offence points system. The worse the offence, the more points incurred and the longer it takes for the points to roll off.

  67. John R. Wright, 15 October 2012 01:07

    Hi Nigel:
    Autosport is in danger of becoming something similar to roller derby or World Wrestling Federation. However, the penalties for causing a serious accident are abrupt and deadly. Is it the money or is it something else? If I were generalissimo of the sport, I would ban dangerous drivers for ever and if necessary the owners who employ them. Pandering to these narcissistic egotists has gone too far.

  68. David Rimmer, 15 October 2012 11:28

    Blocking,yes,that was a good thought provoking article,and one would hope that it may provide the kernel for some realistic legislative developments. But who were the “one or two British household names” during the fifties who’s driving was dubious?
    I think we should be told.

  69. David Goddard, 16 October 2012 14:33

    A hot topic indeed, so let’s ask Motor Sport to set up a poll of its readers, with this question :

    “Do you consider the actions of Senna and Schumacher to have contributed to the dramatic deterioration in racing standards throughout the formulae?” YES / NO

  70. dave cubbedge, 16 October 2012 15:51

    first vote: YES

  71. Ian Millar, 16 October 2012 21:01

    Would it not be possible for F! drivers to have “spotters” like Nascar drivers do?

  72. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 17 October 2012 11:25

    Second vote: YES

  73. Carlos Sanchez, 17 October 2012 15:49

    I honestly think the opposite.
    That the actions and performances of both Senna and Shumacher IMPROVED the standards throughout the formulae.

  74. Carlos Sanchez, 17 October 2012 15:54

    (cont.) Have dramatically contributed to improve the racing standards throughout the Formulae, that is.

  75. Enrico Melli, 17 October 2012 17:23

    Third vote: YES

  76. Cédric, 31 October 2012 19:36

    Just a thought.
    If the cars the drivers are racing allowed greater possibilities for overtaking, letting them try for different lines without sliding off on “marbles” or whatever they call the off line build up during a race…, it seems logical you would get less “defensive” driving.
    Grid position is really important today. The drivers fight like hell over tenths or hundredth of a second just to make sure they start as high up as they can. Often, grid position is going to be how you finish. We all know how much cash is at stake for a team, the more points it has.
    So how on earth can we be surprised that today’s drivers are just not going to make it easy for others to overtake. And if that means getting physical or not being a gentleman then so what.
    I’m not sure it’s Senna or Schumacher that are responsible for the type of driving we have today, the game is different. The cars have changed, the circuits, the media coverage, the money – so has the driving.

  77. Jim Ireland, 5 November 2012 19:59

    Completely agree with Nigel on this. But I will go Derrick one further. Amass enough penalty points, and you lose your competition license. THAT will get a driver’s attention. Play nice, or don’t play at all. Just because cars are safer, doesn’t mean the laws of physics have taken a holiday, and if there is another driver fatality, it will likely be some bloody-minded Senna devotee cramming someone into a wall.

  78. bebo, 17 November 2012 09:56

    Any idiot can block like an anus, but not anyone can block fairly and defend his position smartly!!

  79. Terry Jacob, 11 December 2012 11:17

    This is probably the only thing I would take issue with my great hero Gilles about . I have always enjoyed watching robust blocking , I think this enjoyment came from watching 1000cc F3 ‘screamers ‘ in their heyday . Nothing could beat a slipstreamer battle on a high speed circuit with plenty of determined weaving thrown into the mix . These days I find most racing a little limp .

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