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F1 Opinion 29

Alan Jones on the modern F1 driver

We’ve seen the Grand Prix cars testing at Jerez, and in Barcelona, but we don’t really have a lot to go on ahead of the first race in Melbourne.

Elsewhere, we’ve had some good debates about Bahrain, and aired our views on the state of the nation as we see it ahead of another season.

So, let me tell you about a telephone call. Every now and then, first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, I decide to have a gossip with a racer who lives way outside my time zone. A favourite of mine is Alan Jones. The Aussie is not everyone’s cup of tea but I’ve always liked him. You know where you stand with Jonesy. Ask Carlos Reutemann.

opinion  Alan Jones on the modern F1 driverThis week we covered a few random topics as he took a break between functions at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide. No doubt the corporate guests were richly and colourfully entertained. Anyway, I wondered what he thought about the way Grand Prix racing has changed, in particular the type of characters we have at the front of the grid these days?

No doubt you will have your own views, and please express them later, but here’s a cleaned-up version of what the 1980 World Champion had to say two weeks before the guys arrive in Albert Park.

“They’re all a bit precious now, aren’t they?” he offers for openers. You can hear the grin. “I mean, if they get brought up in front of the stewards, they bring along their barristers and their technicians, crying and all that carry-on. When I was racing, if someone did the wrong thing by you, then you’d put his name in your little book and get even later on. Give him back something to think about. Now they moan about having their lap messed up or there’s blocking or something – well, we used to make our own arrangements, you know? Maybe we need a few more big characters, if you know what I mean.” Yes, I do, and one of the good things about Mr Jones is that he would say this if they were standing next to him.

opinion  Alan Jones on the modern F1 driverI’m not sure I’d describe Signor Alonso as precious, but we know what he means. Trouble is, we all love motor racing and we don’t stop being enthralled because, for us, the sport is a passion, almost a drug if you like. I do not take kindly to those who say “F1 is boring”. No, it is not boring, it is just very different from how it used to be.

This year, with six World Champions on the grid, the racing will not be boring. Even if one of them runs away, like Vettel last year, it is still fascinating. There’s always something intriguing, or interesting, going on at this rarefied level of motor racing. But yes, life has changed, and political correctness, health and safety, bureaucracy and gigantic sums of money have done little to help. As in our daily lives.

As I said earlier, you will have your own views and this is an open forum for those who have a passion for the sport. Say what you think, keep it legal, and let’s have plenty of good debate as the season gets underway.

Add your comments

29 comments on Alan Jones on the modern F1 driver

  1. Lewis Lane, 2 March 2012 11:55

    Everything’s far too corporate these days, the sponsors are bigger and the money’s bigger, so the drivers are on too much on a leash to express their opinions, in case they upset somebody. I’m sure the characters are there – they’re just kept in boxes. The only man who seems prepared to express his opinion strongly and eloquently is Mark Webber, so there must be something in the water down there.. I for one, admire him for doing it. And DC sometimes says what he thinks – now he’s retired. Looking at AJ’s view, it’s a bit of a shame Tony Stewart didn’t get a crack at F1..

  2. chris b, 2 March 2012 21:23

    i always liked the Jones boy and his unspoken intimidation of Piquet was a joy to behold and real – i always thought Keke another who was who he was and if you didn’t like it – well that’s your problem, nowadays as Lewis says its all corporation mentality and the image, reminds me a bit of the 1960′s manufacturered pop groups – all about corporate image,. in saying this is just such an improvement since 2004 its untrue – but yea i miss the Mario’s and Keke’s who would quip something and the point was made, its almost as if people don’t play the psychological card anymore – Stirling did, Jimmy did – but i don’t think he realised he did – Ayrton and Alain did but nowadays maybe Alonso isabout the only one who understands mind games, i do like most of the F1 stars and yes since 2005 the racing just gets better and better

  3. Rich Ambroson, 2 March 2012 23:49

    Always enjoy reading/hearing Jonesy’s thoughts.

    I thought of another driver than Alonso when I read the “precious” comment, especially in light of Jones describing the bit about going before the stewards… (he was Alonso’s teammate for a year a few years back though)

    Too bad we don’t have such as Gilles, Ronnie, AJ, and many of the greats from the past on the grid. Alesi was one of my faves of a slightly more recent era; too bad Ferrari was going through a patch of bad management and car design while he was there…

  4. Rich Ambroson, 2 March 2012 23:54

    ” life has changed, and political correctness, health and safety, bureaucracy and gigantic sums of money have done little to help. As in our daily lives.”

    Well said, as always, Rob.

  5. Rich Ambroson, 2 March 2012 23:55

    chris b, for sure, Keke was an outstanding driver AND character!

  6. rob widdows, 3 March 2012 15:51

    Thanks for joining in you guys. While considering the men in the cars for 2012 it saddens me that there will not be a single Italian on the grid. I do think Scuderia Ferrari is in part to blame for this if we must apportion blame. More interestingly, Ferrari does have its own “driver academy”, a university that sadly seems never to produce an Italian graduate. The Italian F3 champion is usually taken into this “academy” and yet he does not make it to the F1 team.
    Riccardo Patrese has some observations on this on his website. He too is frustrated by the lack of Italian Grand Prix drivers, as he would be, especially as he is acutely aware of the religion that is Ferrari in his homeland.
    Let’s hope that in the future we will see Italians on the grid. And an American would be good. Perhaps, over time, they
    will all be Chinese, Indian, Russian and from the Gulf states.
    As ever, time will tell.
    RW

  7. Terry Sammin, 4 March 2012 03:16

    When are you going to have printer friendly?

  8. Tony, 4 March 2012 08:06

    Can you imagine if He had been the one to go into politics?
    I can remember the day when an interview with Alan or Mario would keep Nigel Roebuck in copy for weeks, no wonder he loves them.

  9. chris b, 4 March 2012 08:20

    Rob, yes it is a shame, and Italy must ponder its confusion methinks, i mean the Italian fans are the most passionate and diehard red fans and yet there seems to have been no clamorouring or demand for Italian drivers just Italian red cars, do you remember when Patrese crashed the Brabham at San Marino and Patrick Tambay won in the red car – the cheers could be heard in Kent without the aid of a TV, and also have Italy had a superstar since Ascari? Patrese, Bandini, Alboreto were all very fine drivers but not on that level, one thing strikes me is that they all seemed really decent chaps – ok 1978 and Patrese probably wasn’t thought of in that way, and then you have motorbikes, Ago, Rossi, Melandri and Biaggi to name but 4 superstars and the passion in following them, doesn’t really make sense to me- does it to you?

  10. Chris Hall, 4 March 2012 23:14

    Rob, wasn’t it DSJ that said that probably the greatest driver ever will probably never be discovered because he / she lives in some little village somewhere in a place that the motor car hasn’t really impacted ? Perhaps the fact that the populace of Russia, China, India etc ( which let’s face it form the majority of the worlds population ) are now being exposed to high level motor sport means that that person may yet be discovered ? Quite how you’d prove them to be the best ever since they’ll be driving around Tilkedromes is a bit beyond me ……..

  11. Frank, 5 March 2012 01:02

    I think Webber’s pretty straight forward with the media, which is great, although I disagree with ‘Lewis Lane’ on one point – I wouldn’t ever describe him as eloquent; his sentences are usually a barrage of mixed metaphors and half finished analogies. I love the way he drives, but I grit my teeth when he starts talking.
    Vettel used to be good for a quote too, before he got big.

  12. Tony Geran, 5 March 2012 04:43

    Frank, yes and Michael Schumacher seemed a nice guy until he started winning and nerfing Damon. I think we can blame Ron Dennis to some extent for the “corporatisation of drivers” when he had his then young team of DC and Hakkinen sticking to the corporate line particularly when at one stage when I think Mika couldn’t tell Mr Roebuck about an engine blow up and referred to an “electrical problem” when a piston emerged from the engine block and severed a wire!!! That’s why I prefer to watch Moto GP these days when the riders still get stuck into each other, another reason to mourn Simoncelli, who was famous for a TV interview he gave at Phillip Is in which he used the F bomb when he saw how fast he was going on a TV replay. Nice piece Rob but would have to have read more from the great man.

  13. hamfan, 5 March 2012 14:29

    Rose-tinted-itis strikes again. The hissy fits because Carlos got the better of Jones mark him down as a Major League whiner (and why, exactly, did he need ‘let me win’ clauses in the contract anyway?) Makes me laugh when everyone keeps saying he was ‘hard’. As if an F1 racing driver ever could be.

    Brave, yes. All were/are. But talent-wise he’d be outdriven by the whole of today’s F1 field, just as Dalgliesh or Trevor Francis would be were they to be playing in today’s Premiership. Progress. That’s assuming Alan could, at his ‘peak’ 70s fitness, fit in any of the cars. Old drivers should stick to talking about the old days. Today’s drivers, cars, teams, TV coverage (everything!) are all miles better.

  14. Tony Geran, 5 March 2012 22:18

    Hamfan the average driver today could not hold a candle to the guys who drove in the ’60s ’70s and ’80s. I bet not many of the current bunch could drive around Monaco one handed for 80 laps and they wouldn’t know how to use a “proper” gearbox. Today’s F1 is just three sprint races, granted not as bad as when they had refuelling. They can’t over rev or miss a gear and have just about perfect car to pit radio links these days.

  15. Chris Borg, 6 March 2012 11:54

    Hi Guys,

    It was good to see AJ at the V8 Supercars Clipsall event this weekend. Link below is a video of the restored 1980 F1 championship winning car on track. Sounds great… well it did at the track anyway, thought I would share.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/chrisjborg

  16. dave cubbedge, 6 March 2012 17:13

    Regarding Ferrari and Italian drivers, remember that Enzo used to hire Italians and brought quite a few into the sport, but the backlash from the Italian media was tremendous when one of those guys was killed as in Ascari, Castellotti, Musso, Bandini, etc. Then it became his policy NOT to hire Italians. A few still got through; Giunti, Merzario, Alboreto and Capelli, but by then the desire by the Brazilian contigent was enough to relegate the best Italians to the back of the grid.

    Back in the day when Italian drivers ruled the sport I believe it was just so much more difficult for South American drivers to even get to Europe to compete. Of course a few did and we were blessed with Fangio as well as Gonzalez. Maybe the desire to take the risks necessary to be quick isn’t as strong in the Italian mindset as it is in the Brazilian one.

    I have often thought of an article I read years ago in Road & Track magazine about how the best driver in the world isn’t necessarily Senna or Schumacher, but perhaps a man living in Nepal or Tuvalu who possesses all the natural ability to be quicker than anybody, but doesn’t have the chance to get there.

  17. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 7 March 2012 13:35

    Nowadays is very difficult for a good driver to get to F1 because he well may win every championship at the minor categories, but if he lacks a case with millions dollars inside and a good marketing campaign, he’ll never do it. In the past there was a French wave of very good drivers starting during the 70′s and lasting well into the 90′s, flowing from race driving schools and backed by their oil and car companies and strong nationalism, that eventually culminated with Alain Prost.
    The big thing of past drivers was they were all different in style and you could notice that while watching they race: the good ones were skilled obsevers who assessed the rival cars and colleagues strengths and weaknesses, measuring their tyre wearing, brake fading, gearbox troubles and the like.Today the leading cars seem to be very strong and drivers only care about driving faster and faster and so make a lot of mistakes like shunts, collisions, etc., the differences in driving style between them being hard to ascertain: everyone seem to do the same thing and even have a similar look, height, weight, etc.

  18. rob widdows, 7 March 2012 14:31

    Chris -thanks very much for the video link from Adelaide. Nice contribution.
    Yes, it probably was Jenks who talked about never knowing if the best driver has been discovered because there may be one in Tibet or Iceland or anywhere. And of course it’s true!
    I see there’s a fresh debate on old drivers versus new……..well, this is a never-ending argument and one that has no real answer because you cannot compare 1980s with 2012. But yes, tracks like Monaco were far more of a handful in the past, no doubt about that. Personally I do miss the sliding, the opposite lock and the rhythm of a manual gearbox. But, like most of us, I try to move with the times as best I can…………!
    RW

  19. John Szymanski, 7 March 2012 15:33

    I was lucky enough to be a crew member for AJ when he drove in the Can Am series for Carl Haas. In 1979 when he was subing for Jacky Ickx (who was at LeMans) at Mid-Ohio, Jones and Keke Rosburg had a massive battle, the cars coming together more than once with Jones finally winning when Rosburg’s car had a late race mechanical problem. Afterwards there was a lot of protesting and whinning and at one point, Jones looked at Rosburg while they were in the stewards room and said ‘why don’t you and I go outside and settle this like men!’ Rosburg declined to take Alan up on this offer. It’s no wonder we all loved the guy! I still have the sidepod from that car with a big wheel mark where Jones leaned on Keke just a little! Peter Warr was at that race and I think that drive by Keke helped him get the Wolf ride when Hunt retired. Jones was very special on and off the track.

  20. rob widdows, 7 March 2012 16:45

    Hi John, welcome to our little debate. Nice story, I like it!
    Yup, Mr Jones is, and always was, great value! As has been mentioned above, Mark Webber is the most open and honest character in GP racing these days. Good old Aussies.
    RW

  21. John Read, 7 March 2012 20:42

    Daniel Ricciardo seems like a nice boy, but I’m sure he will take the gloves off if he wants to get on.

    regards from Down Under. xxx

  22. rob widdows, 8 March 2012 13:20

    The one to watch is Jean Eric Vergne. I predict great things for the Frenchman, having seen him in Friday practice sessions and in World Series by Renault.
    We could see Vergne scoring points very soon.As disc jockeys used to say, he is my tip for the top.
    RW

  23. BillFenner1967, 8 March 2012 20:41

    When I was a lad I picked up Alan Jones’ autobiography from the library. Good read, though to be honest, I don’t remember anything about racing that was in there. What I do remember is a passage near the end when he talks about how women can’t be his equal because no woman can drive an F1 car like a man can, or run as fast, or punch as hard, etc. Somehow my mum got hold of this and was shocked, while I had a good laugh.

    Anyway, Happy International Woman’s Day!

  24. DDT, 10 March 2012 17:55

    While I’m sympathetic to Jones’ sentiments and the critical tone in the comments, I’d like to offer an other view on the modern F1 driver.
    FIrst, F1 driving is still serious business. No one has died since Senna, but there have been some very close calls. It is much safer but certainly not safe. It also requires the same skill as in Jones’ era, but with a lot of other demands. Race car driving is a full time job, by which I mean the level of focus is like no other human activity. Yet, we are asking a lot more of our driver’s brains now. The steering wheel is emblematic of what a driver must know and deal with on top of driving the car faster than ever before. In addition, the 4-5 g loads that repeat relentlessly every few seconds for well over an hour create physical demands unknown to Jones.

    Now add the visibility. Millions of fans watching live, and wanting for every tidbit of information. And sponsors with their draconian propaganda cloaks, forcing drivers to reply to good questions with meaningless corporate drivel. Just the level of scrutiny exposes character flaws that may remained out of view in the old days.

    Now add the money. The money that pays the salaries of a lot of excellent people who cannot control their fate. The responsibility that falls on a driver not to screw that up, either in an interview, with the stewards or with the sponsor’s wives is enormous. A team produces maybe 4 cars on a budget of several 100 Million making each worth 20+ million. Can you really afford to stuff your opponent into the wall with that much on the line?

  25. Mike Allfrey, 10 March 2012 21:51

    It was DSJ who wrote that he answered questions about who was the best driver?

    The version I read in Motor Sport was – “Probably a delivery van driver in Timbuktoo who has all the right skills and reflexes to be the best.”

    I still have that edition somewhere, but finding it could take a heap of time!

  26. John Read, 12 March 2012 00:01

    I don’t know about the “physical demands unknown to Jones” DDT. Wasn’t the sliding-skirt era with negligible suspension and very high cornering loads one of the reasons that Jones (for one) decided to retire earlier than he would have preferred?
    I agree the mental effort may be greater due to all the buttons and so-on the drivers have to contend with.

  27. harvey small, 12 March 2012 01:36

    I remember alan jones at crystal palace as a midfield runner with the fanciest road car. mustang or something similar, and the best looking women, he made an impression, probably calculated.. good for him

  28. DDT, 12 March 2012 08:10

    @John Read
    Well you make my point for me: Jones opted out of physical demands similar to today’s. I’m just saying that his antics were a luxury of a different time and different machinery.

    BTW: I have the greatest respect for AJ and his peers. Driving any race car requires serious skill and fortitude. And those cars were much more dangerous and required serious courage.

  29. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 15 March 2012 17:43

    Hamfan, nobody would deny Jones was “hard” enough to intimidate Keke, Nelson or even to hit a foot-taller oponent at a late night bar fight, but there is another kind of…courage. The one required to remove ground effect and aerodynamic load almost completely to a Cosworth-powered Williams and to drive it to the limit at 39 in order to challenge the Turbo Renaults at the 81 Monza qualifying session…fitting like a wedge between them!
    The only kind of courage Jones surely respected, I think…

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