– Conflicts and contrasts at Daytona
– Brundle’s grand day out at Fiorano
– The other type of launch control
There may be a better pla than Florida to be in January, but if so I have never come across it, and as ever this year’s visit to the Rolex 24 at Daytona proved the ideal antidote to the British winter. Pleasurable anticipation of the trip was only heightened by a moment on the Gatwick Express two or three days before I left: the train had reached the environs of Victoria Station more or less on time, but then parked up a few hundred yards short of the platform. “We apologise for the delay,” said the disembodied voice, “but would point out that it has been snowing for two hours…” A Canadian woman sitting near me looked suitably bemused.
This year’s Rolex 24 was the last to be run under the existing Grand-Am rules, for American sports car racing is in the process of unifying itself, and at present discussions are underway to come up with a future car specification embracing not only Grand-Am’s ‘Daytona Prototype’, but also the much quicker — and pricier — LMP2 car from the American Le Mans Series.
A particularly appealing aspect of the race at Daytona — apart from the ambience and climate — is that it tends to pull in drivers from every avenue of racing. In the paddock on the Thursday, for example, I came across a couple of red Ferrari 458s, with Giancarlo Fisichella standing alongside one, Clint Bowyer next to the other.
Bowyer, the runner-up in last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series, has an ongoing feud with Jeff Gordon, which came to a head at Phoenix late last year, when Gordon put Bowyer in the wall, thus ending his hopes of becoming champion. I watched the race on TV, and vividly recall the sight of Bowyer literally sprinting through the paddock afterwards in urgent search of his nemesis. He is a big man, Clint — and clearly a very fit one — and Gordon, who was later fined $100,000 by NASCAR, was well advised to take refuge in his team’s truck.
The feud, it appears, remains unresolved. “What d’you want us to do?” Bowyer genially said in response to a question in Daytona. “Hold hands?” I asked him what he made of the Ferrari, and he said he was enjoying it, different as it was: “It’s got a few things I’m not used to — brakes, steering, stuff like that…”
For a variety of reasons, I was delighted to see Juan Pablo Montoya take the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon, and it was a pleasure, too, to catch up with Rubens Barrichello, whom I had seen briefly in Austin last November, but with whom I hadn’t properly spoken since he left Formula 1 at the end of 2011. Rubens — the archenthusiast, who races as he breathes — was sharing a Porsche GT3 Cup car with, among others, his great pal Tony Kanaan.
Barrichello has a house in Orlando, so was very familiar with the area, but this was the first time he had raced at Daytona. “Of course the Porsche is nice to drive,” he said, “but really I’m only doing this because it’s an all-Brazilian team, and these guys are my friends. For sure I want to come back to Daytona, but I must say I’d prefer to do it next time in a prototype. Twice in the past I was invited to drive one here, but I couldn’t do it because the race is always run at about the time the new F1 cars are being launched in Europe, and testing begins. When you’re in F1 you’re fully focused on it, and basically you’ve no way to compete in any other series, because of contracts and lack of time. These days, though, I’m living in a different world…”
A touch wistful, perhaps? In the course of his 19 years as an F1 driver, Rubens went to the grid 323 times, a record, and it’s easy to forget that as recently as September 2009 he was a Grand Prix winner (at Monza with Brawn), and on merit. There followed two seasons with Williams — the team for which, as a boy, he had dreamed most of driving — but by the end of 2011 financial considerations were coming very seriously into play, and Barrichello was replaced by Bruno Senna. Notification, when it came, was brusque.
“Well… that’s Frank, isn’t it? He’s always been very cold — he doesn’t get emotional about anything. He called me to say that I wasn’t going to drive in 2012, and… that was that! Twill always be fond of him, though. My real problem was with Adam Parr — I didn’t think he understood much about racing — but he’s not there any more. In fact, all the guys who decided I wasn’t going to drive are not with the team any longer, and I think Williams are now probably back on the right track…”
It was ironic that in 2011, Barrichello’s last season with Williams, the car was hopeless, scoring only five points in 19 races, whereas last year, as Rubens looked on, a huge step forward was taken, to the point that at Barcelona Pastor Maldonado was able to hold off even Fernando Alonso and to score the first Williams victory in eight years.
“Yes, it’s true,” Barrichello shrugged, “but then that’s life in F1. I spent five seasons with Ferrari, when the cars were quick, and then those years with Honda, when the cars were very uncompetitive — and then all of a sudden I was in that lovely Brawn, and winning races again! That was the best car I’ve driven.
“F1 tests your mind, tests your nerves — and you’ve got to be ready when the cycle comes round to your turn again, when the car’s ready for you. If you keep complaining, going around with a long face and bad humour, you’re not going to be ready for when your time comes.
“Of course I was happy for everyone at Williams when they won at Barcelona — but at the same time I wished I was in that car! I’m 40 now, but when I left F1 I was as quick as I’d ever been — and, believe me, I’m always honest with myself: if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t say it.”
It is doubtful that ever there was a man who relished the job of Grand Prix driver more than Barrichello, and coming to terms with life away from F1 was initially a terrible wrench.
“I woke up at four o’clock in the morning in Brazil to watch the first race of last year, in Melbourne — a circuit I really loved — and I saw the competitiveness of the Williams, and thought, `Mmm, this is going to be really hard…’ After a few races, though, I got used to it — that was the way it was, and I couldn’t change it. Of course I watched them all — I couldn’t not do…
“At the end of the year I went to Austin. I know probably 98 per cent of the people in the paddock, and it was great to be back, and to feel so welcome. So many people said to me, ‘Oh, Rubens, if you were still in the Williams…’ and of course that was nice to hear. It was wonderful to go back to somewhere I spent 19 years — but did I feel an ache in my stomach just before the start? Absolutely!”
We may be more than four years further on from the damburst of the worldwide economic crisis, but many longterm sponsorship agreements were already in place at the time, and for quite a while that cushioned F1 from what was going on in the real world. As agreements expired and were not renewed, however, reality began to hit hard, and it is a fact that many teams are running very close to the edge these days — as evidenced by the increasing number of ‘pay drivers’.
“Yes, I know that’s the way it is,” said Barrichello, “although I think, in the case of Williams they’ve got such a great name that if they do a good job they’ll always survive. The situation at the moment is very sad, though — at least 30 per cent of the grid is made up of ‘pay drivers’, and so many others are out — not just me! It happened to Trulli, and now to Kovalainen, Glock…
“Of course that’s not how F1 should be, but it is what it is. When I came into it, with Jordan in 1993,1 brought some money from Arisco with me, but it wasn’t a huge amount — and then my talent kept me in for 19 years. Some of the guys who bring money now — they stay one year, and then they go, and then someone else with money is in the car the next year…
“You know, everyone in Brazil seems to think I haven’t turned the page — I think I have, but I always take great care when I say anything about F1: I say, ‘I’m not begging to go back, but if ever the chance came up, I’d be ready — and that’s it’. It’s less painful now than it was a year ago.”
Rubens spent the 2012 season in Indycars, an experience he enjoyed, albeit with some reservations. The philosophy of the car he found very different from what he had known in F1, and a particular problem, he said, was the lack of power steering.
“It wasn’t just a matter of exercising and getting more fit: the amount of power you have to put through the steering-wheel — in any type of corner — was a shock, especially on some of the street tracks in America, which are incredibly bumpy. Actually, I’m not saying this was a bad thing: in Fl the drivers are used to saying, ‘This bump is bad, so we need it to be resurfaced’, whereas in America they see the bumps as part of the entertainment — in Detroit I went out for the first time, and thought maybe I’d taken the wrong road!
“After all those years of F1, and as someone known for the smoothness of his driving, I admit that was a shock. To be competitive in Indycars, you’ve got to be aggressive — you’ve got to be rude to the car, throw it into the corners, and so on — and with the lack of power steering, it was really a big effort, although I did get used to it.
“You’ve got to remember that the car was more than 200 kilos heavier than an F1 car, the downforce was huge, the engine was turbocharged and had less power than I was used to… So many things were different, but by the end of the year I’d got a lot faster, and I was hoping to do at least one more year in an Indycar.”
Any driver brought up on road racing who later ventures to the ovals is inevitably asked how he coped with this new discipline, not least with the proximity of the walls. Barrichello said this had actually been the least of his problems.
“As I said, at first I struggled with the heavy steering, but of course on the ovals you don’t have that problem, because you’re running so much less downforce, and you’re not ‘steering’ as much as on a normal circuit. I enjoyed the ovals, actually, and I thought, ‘If I do a second year, I’ll have much better chances to get good finishes’.”
The pivotal point of any IndyCar season, it goes without saying, is the Indianapolis 500, and I wondered how, as the winner of US Grand Prix there (in 2002), it had been for Barrichello to go back to the Speedway, this time to tackle the oval.
“Oh, wonderful! An amazing experience — and very different from anything else. Again, it’s a matter of getting used to a new technique, to the fact that the car pulls to the left so much that you don’t actually turn it through the corner — the quickest way is when it turns by itself! Actually you get to grips with it quite quickly, so you can go through flat quite easily — but then, of course, it gets more difficult, because you have to start taking downforce out of the car, and by the time of qualifying you’re going lOmph quicker than on the first day! Such a pure adrenaline rush…
“After a few races you get used to the walls being so close — although I’m not saying that it was comfortable, exactly, particularly at a 500-mile race, where you’re talking about three and a half hours. I promise you, every three laps something happens that makes you go, `Ooohhh!’ When I finished Indy, I was at least three or four years older than when I started…
“The oval that I enjoyed most was Milwaukee. It’s a proper race track, with hardly any banking and two really highspeed corners. I had my best qualifying position of the year there — third — and I loved it. Texas, though, I found a bit scary, because the banking is so steep that for some reason it’s difficult to know exactly where the car is that’s alongside you. People can say whatever they like, but at that place — especially on old tyres — you’re not in control all the time, and that makes it tough. On the ovals, believe me, you start to understand — quite quickly — who’s your friend, and who is not…”
Barrichello had hoped to continue with IndyCar in 2013, but financially the series is in a particularly parlous state, and his efforts to raise a budget in Brazil came to nought. “I was like a little boy, Nigel — I went to companies, to banks, everywhere, trying to raise sponsorship to continue in IndyCar. My friends said, ‘Are you crazy? After 19 years of Fl…?’ I said, ‘I don’t care — I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and this is what I love doing’. Brazil seemed to be not very keen on sponsorship for IndyCar, and I kept getting invitations to race stock cars, so at the end of the day I started to believe that destiny was right in front of me…
“One good thing about driving stock cars in Brazil is that I’ll be able to be closer to my family, which is always a big thing, and although I’m as fit as ever, there’s no doubt that when you are 40 travelling certainly makes you more tired than when you were 20.”
The stock cars raced in Brazil, Rubens says, are more sophisticated than those in NASCAR, leaning a little bit more towards DTM. “They’re quite nice to drive, actually — the biggest problem is getting used to a car with doors — I’ve spent my life in singleseaters, and honestly, when I raced a stock car for the first time last year and they closed the door, I felt so alone! I wanted to say, ‘No, no! Please open the door — I want to see properly, and have the wind blowing in my face!’ I was sitting in this great big cockpit, and when the door closed, I felt shut out…”
If the opportunity ever arose to go back to IndyCar, would Barrichello take it? “Oh, yes — in the right circumstances I’d go back anywhere! I haven’t lost any speed just yet, and I still love what I do just as much as ever…”
I remember running into Martin Brundle in the Valencia paddock after the race in 2009, and noting the beam on his face. “Great result, wasn’t it?” he said. “Proper bloke wins Grand Prix…” Indeed so.
Back in 1996, Brundle and Barrichello were team-mates at JordanPeugeot, and they got along extremely well, as might have been expected, for they are of the same cloth: pure racers, as well as team players with no taste for playing political games.
At the time Martin admitted to me that previously he had underestimated Rubens: “He needs his head in the right place, but when he’s on it, I think he’s exceptional, to be honest — in fact, I wonder now how I’d missed it before…”
Barrichello left Jordan at the end of the year to join the new Stewart Grand Prix team, but Brundle was intending to continue with EJ, alongside new teammate Ralf Schumacher. In January 1997 we had a long conversation — immediately after Martin had learned that, contrary to his expectations, he was no longer a Jordan driver. Bit late in the day, that, to find alternative employment, and in fact Brundle never raced an F1 car again.
Not surprisingly, he wasn’t best pleased with the news — but, more than that, he was infuriated by the uncertainty of the last few months, the way things had been done. “I said to him one day, ‘Look, Eddie, if I actually accepted your offer, and I came over right now, would you sign it?’ He went all round the houses, and in the end I said, ‘Look, is that a yes or a no?’ And finally he said, ‘Er, no — I could have done it last week, but there’s a couple of things that have happened since…’
“I’d heard that (Giancarlo) Fisichella was in the frame — that Bernie wanted him moved up from Minardi — and EJ rang to say that I might read something in the press about it, that there was a possibility that something might happen at 12.30 on press day at the Racing Car Show… I said, ‘Oh, well, that’s interesting, Eddie. I’ll be at the show that day, so I’ll be able to hear about it…’ I heard him gulp at the other end of the ‘phone. Of course, what he was trying to tell me — but couldn’t bring himself actually to say — was that he’d signed Fisichella, and it was going to be announced. Really bizarre, I thought, but still…”
For Brundle it was the end of one career, as an Fl driver and the start of another, in television, first with ITV, then with the BBC, now with Sky. “I was hoping,” he said at the time, “that maybe I had another two or three years in me, at the highest level, but if it’s not to be, I have to face facts — and actually, long-term, I quite fancy broadcasting: I’m beginning to see it is an important job…” Sixteen years on, he is revelling in it still, and few would take issue with Niki Lauda’s opinion that, “Martin’s the best Fl broadcaster in the world, no question…”
At the same time, though, Brundle has never lost his taste for driving racing cars — nor his love of Le Mans, where last year, at the age of 52, he shared an LMP2 car with his son Alex. He understands completely why Mario Andretti, although the wrong side of 70, continues to drive the two-seater Indycar at any opportunity.
“I suppose I’ve always been a bit starryeyed about Mario,” he said. “If anyone’s been there, seen everything, done it all, it’s him. At Austin I did the track guide with him for Sky, and with the modern guys it’s always, ‘How much more d’you need?’ Mario, though, just engages completely. The guy’s got petrol in his veins, hasn’t he? The last thing I said to him was, ‘Would you like to be out there this afternoon?’, and he batted it straight back: ‘Yeah — and so would you!’ And he was right, of course.
“We were driving round in an SUV thing, and we got to T9 and T10. T9’s a blind left, and T10’s a kink with questions, and Mario said, ‘Man, I tried to get the two-seater flat through here — wouldn’t do it!’ I’m thinking, ‘What did he need to do that for? Who was watching? Who had a stopwatch?’ Nobody! He simply needed to do it for himself, and I thought then, having driven the Ferrari at Fiorano, ‘I can completely relate to that’.”
It was early last year when Brundle told me about his forthcoming day with Ferrari, and I was amazed that he had managed to pull it off. It was, he unsurprisingly says, one of the most memorable experiences of his life.
“I emailed Stefano (Domenicali), and told him what we’d like to do, and he came back immediately: yes. Sky was hugely enthusiastic, and I took a crew of 14 to Fiorano with me. We got there, and here’s the track and the factory and Enzo’s farmhouse and everything, and initially I didn’t give a toss about the TV aspect of the trip — I just wanted to drive the car!
“They couldn’t have done more for us, in spite of the fact that the timing couldn’t have been worse — by the time we got there, they’d had some miserable tests with the new car. Remember how bad it was to start with? As it was, they threw the factory open to us: there I am interviewing Pat Fry, with the 2012 cars being built in the bay either side of us, and he says, ‘How the hell did you organise this — getting in here with cameras?’ Obviously it was a terribly stressful time for them — I could see the mechanics’ eyes burning holes in Pat as he was talking to me!”
“The car I drove was from 2010, and I had the F1 Cliente team working with me — basically these are F1 people who don’t want to go to the races any more, so it was like a works team, and I really felt as if I was driving a test day for Ferrari at Fiorano. This was the real McCoy, on Pirellis, at the team’s test track. I remember getting up, opening my hotel window shutters, looked out at the market square in Maranello — and although it was raining, the sky was breaking, and I thought, ‘This is going to be a very good day…”
The plan was to get six or seven features out of it, including such as ‘How to start an F1 car’. Brundle filmed the intro, and then finally it was time: “I’m sitting in the car, with the engine running — and the track is drying out, which seemed like a miracle just for me! Then I pulled out on to the track, with this scarlet bodywork in front of me…”
I wondered how emotional it had been, how much difference it made that this was a Ferrari — at Fiorano.
“Oh,” Martin grinned at the question, “a massive difference. Apart from anything else, something like this isn’t going to happen at Woking or Milton Keynes, is it? I had a camera on my chest, which was so tight that I couldn’t breathe, and three microphones in my helmet — 18,000 revs blows the microphones to bits. I’m hoping that we’re going to get some good stuff, hoping the car’s going to be reliable, hoping I don’t smash it into the wall — hoping for so many things…”
One way and another, Brundle usually manages to get himself into an F1 car once a year at least, and in terms of its reactions, the Ferrari felt very familiar. “Having said that, the systems are completely bespoke — and this is where I can completely relate to the awful Maria de Villota saga. They were feeding me huge amounts of information — what to do, and what not to do. These are very complicated bits of kit.
“It was an odd situation for me — I had cameras and microphones all over the place, and I had to start delivering words, but at the same time I’m thinking, ‘Christ! This is Fiorano — and I’m in a Ferrari…’ All your senses are completely overloaded. I’d been round the track in a 599XX the year before, so I knew roughly which way it went, but it was sort of half-dry, and I didn’t know the Pirellis that well in those conditions. The worst thing for me is that, when I see the footage later, if I’m not really on it I’m gutted, to be honest with you — I’m embarrassed.
“Anyway, I’m out there, trying to do something relevant in the conditions, and trying to talk — but then you start pushing, and you can’t help but go silent, because you turn in, and the thing just bites the track. The gearbox is glorious, and so is the power delivery — the whole thing is totally sublime, and you realise you haven’t spoken for half a minute, maybe more. You think, ‘Christ, they’re filming, and so you say, ‘This feels amazing — the grip, the brakes, I feel like I’m part of this racing car…’ All the things you’d planned to say are gone, so you revert to instinct and one-liners. Then you start driving, start feeling the grip, and then your breath literally disappears — not through surprise or shock, but sheer physical exertion. It’s like a never-ending thing — it just keeps going faster and faster…”
The one aspect of the Ferrari which did not take Brundle by surprise was the way it went in a straight line. “In the turbo era I drove 1250bhp F1 cars with no grip, and then V10s with 900, so 750bhp with what appears to be ultimate grip ain’t going to shock you. I’ve driven several 2.4-litre V8 Fl cars, and they all feel gutless — and without torque.
“What is quite extraordinary, though, is the sheer physicality of the braking zone, the turn in, throttle-on apex… That aspect of a current Formula 1 car is beyond belief. At Le Mans last year I drove for eight and a half hours, and felt almost brand-new; at Fiorano I did 40 laps, as hard as I could go, and I was wiped out for a week, to be honest…”
Thinking back, Brundle remains amazed by the carte blanche aspect of Sky’s visit to Maranello. How many laps was he to be allowed in the car? ‘Whatever you like.’ How many revs could he use? ‘It’s limited to 18,000, so shift at 17-9…’ Could he do some practice starts? ‘Why not?’
Once the track activity was all done, Martin was ushered into the presence of Luca di Montezemolo, who gave him a demonstration of a (four-wheel-drive) Ferrari FF. “It frightened the life out of me! We went through Maranello town, and I was on camera — my eyes must have been out on stalks.
“The whole experience was amazing. I’d been in the road car factory lots of times, for instance, but on this visit I went in rooms I’d never been in before. We had absolutely free access — they really didn’t let us down, but actually I don’t think we let them down, either. I reckon the whole thing cost Ferrari maybe £350,000, but I think they’ve had value from it — and after we did it we had a lot of other teams say, ‘You know that thing you did with Ferrari — d’you want to come and do something with us?’ The whole experience was glorious, and the only problem with talking about it is that it all comes back to me, and I want to do it again…”
Martin Whitmarsh has recently suggested that Formula 1’s days of excess are a thing of the past, adding that a number of its 11 teams were financially in ‘survival mode’. While the size and lavishness of most paddock motorhomes might lead you to doubt that, it has in fact been evident for some time, not least from the ever-increasing number of ‘pay drivers’ among the 22 on the grid. It’s mid-February as I write, and still we don’t know who will partner Paul di Resta at Force India.
In the last few years the costs of F1 have been massively reduced, thanks to such as the virtual ban on testing, the restricted number of ‘frozen spec’ engines and gearboxes permitted to each driver in a season, and so on. FIA President Jean Todt continues to exhort the teams to reduce costs still further — which is ironic, in a way, since he has been unmoving in his quest to push F1 down an ever more ‘socially aware’ path: the fact of the matter is that ‘green’ costs money.
Next year comes the 1.6-litre V6 turbo engine, which we are told — with increased KERS and all the rest of it — should produce almost as much horsepower as the current normally-aspirated 2.4-litre V8. Forking out for the new motor is the last thing customer teams, particularly the smaller ones, need, but too bad. Fl has embarked on this road, and whatever Bernie Ecclestone might say to the contrary, it’s too late to turn back now.
Quite some years have gone by since Max Mosley, then at the FIA’s helm, asked my colleague Mark Hughes and I to pay him a visit at the governing body’s London office. He wanted to sound us out on something, he said, and when we got there he began to expound on his vision of F1’s future. The gist of his remarks was that if it were to have a future — a long-term one, anyway — it had to change, and radically. A green agenda was essential, he said, and he pursued this line all the way to electric cars: “Would they miss the noise, d’you think?” Hughes and I answered trenchantly in the affirmative, and Max seemed quite surprised. “Really? Personally I’ve always found the noise rather intrusive — it stops you hearing the commentary properly…”
The meeting was genial enough, but it was swiftly evident that there was to be no meeting of minds. Afterwards Mark and I repaired to a cafe to talk it through, and it’s fair to say we were similarly bemused: had the FIA president no clue as to why people loved to watch — and listen to — Grand Prix cars? It seemed not. And were Mosley’s views representative of the body he represented? Perhaps they were: certainly they have been energetically pursued by his successor in the Place de la Concorde.
In many respects I sense that F1 is in a state of greater disarray and uncertainty than I can remember. For one thing, with every passing year the effects of the worldwide economic meltdown are more keenly felt; for another, there appears to be little in the way of unanimity when it comes to how the cars will be in the future; for another yet, far too much of the money created by the sport is going out of it, and while that has long been the case, it is even less palatable at a time when so many teams, as Whitmarsh puts it, are in survival mode.
When FOTA — the Formula One Teams Association — was founded, I was one of many who rejoiced, hopeful that the teams, apparently unified at last after countless years of being played off against each other, would at last have some real clout in the continuing battles with both the FIA and the commercial rights holder (CVC/ Ecclestone). I remember going to FOTA’s inaugural press conference in Geneva, early in 2008, and feeling encouraged by what I heard — but I also remember what somebody said to me as we left: “I’ll give it six months…”
He wasn’t very far out. FOTA, with Whitmarsh its chairman, continues to exist, but perhaps inevitably vested interests chipped away at its togetherness and sadly it no longer embraces all the teams, which of course hugely compromises its power. A great opportunity missed, it seems to me, but perhaps it was unrealistic to expect anything else. ‘Divide and conquer’ has worked famously for Bernie since time began.
Two things strike me at the moment. First, in its quest to be seen to be ‘socially aware’ — probably a necessity to some degree in these politically correct times — F1 should take great care not to finish up with a product for which there is no market. Perhaps we can live with quieter, more mellow turbo V6s, but who can make sense of ludicrous notions like hybrid power only in the pit lane. What the hell purpose — save laughter — does it serve to turn a Grand Prix car into a Prius whenever it comes in for tyres?
The pit lane speed limit was introduced in 1994, and if it undeniably reduced the drama of pit stops, none could reasonably deny it was justified on grounds of safety. To propose, though, that the cars tool down pit lane in complete silence, simply as proof of F1’s green credentials, is not only asinine, but also — for obvious reasons — dangerous.
The second point I would make is surely clear enough. When Mosley’s FIA sold the F1 commercial rights to Ecclestone (for not much money), and then Bernie predictably moved them on to CVC (for a lot), our sport fell into the ownership of folk who care not a toss about it, save what kind of bottom line it produces. Hence money earned by F1 positively flows out of it, which doubtless delights the private equity company’s investors, if no one else.
Paddock insiders have always said of CVC that it will leave F1 when it feels the time is right, and without a backward glance. Doubtless that’s true, but until that day comes the company might be well advised to show rather more generosity to the teams — many of whom are right on the edge — than has been the case to date. Failure to do that might — who knows? — eventually leave them with nothing to sell.
Nothing is more telling of F1’s financial plight these days than the launch of each season’s new cars. Time was when these would be elaborate affairs, often in glamorous venues, but not any more. Nowadays the launch of a new car tends to be a perfunctory affair, normally at a circuit where the first preseason tests are being conducted.
McLaren, though, continues to launch its latest cars in some style at its space-age headquarters, and this year showed that imagination and ingenuity are worth more than any amount of B-list ‘celebs’ and dry ice. There we sat, in a neat temporary grandstand with the MP4-28 before us, still under wraps, but in the distance could be heard the sound of a racing engine — a serious racing engine. We looked out, and there, working its way swiftly round the perimeter road, was an orange M8D CanAm car, as raced by Denny Hulme…
Nor was that the end of it, for the car then entered the building, coming through the lobby area, passing in front of us, then stopping with a 7.6-litre V8 blast to our left. Five McLaren F1 cars followed it in, and we all grinned like kids. Trust me, Max, noise does matter.
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