Matters of moment: December 2017

A spark plug. A lowly spark plug. A link in the technical chain that, through its evolution, should be the most dependable of all. Its role is to make fire. The role of fire is to generate motion. For Ferrari, the failure of the spark plug lost it both metaphorical and actual motion, and Sebastian Vettel was left wondering if his Formula 1 championship aspirations were truly extinguished.

If you’ve deserted Formula 1 in recent years, you’ll have missed the intense theatre that led up to the Japanese Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton delivered a pole lap that made you bite the back of your hand in awe and, while he was four tenths quicker than Vettel in qualifying, the Ferrari’s speed in race trim set the stage for the kind of battle that would be talked about for years. And all this at Suzuka – a true Emperor of a circuit.

I settled down to watch the race, fidgety with excitement. I didn’t care who would win; I just thought that we were about to witness something special. Then images appeared of nervous Scuderia mechanics. Then a Ferrari engine cover being removed. Oh no.

Vettel made it to through the warm-up lap and made a decent start, considering he had lost about a sixth of his horsepower (or perhaps because of it). Hamilton even had to block. Game on. Then the world’s first five-cylinder Ferrari started to reveal its true health and Vettel was swamped by the pack, his title hopes quite possibly all but snuffed out.

We make no apologies for featuring Lewis and Sebastian on our cover this month. Theirs is an era-defining battle and, while many will argue that Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo should be included in any conversation about the fastest drivers in F1, their battle is for another day. Lewis and Seb is now. And perhaps crucially, or worryingly, theirs could be approaching its twilight.

Lewis and Sebastian, unlike other comparable drivers from history, have second lives. Lewis encourages us to be a voyeur; Sebastian does the opposite. Either way both have a rich existence beyond racing that makes you wonder how long they will stick around in Formula 1. Indeed, post-race at Suzuka Lewis almost, almost, said he was old. On being chased down by Verstappen at the end of the Grand Prix he said, “Jeez, the guy behind is so much younger than me, I’ve got make sure I kind of man up and show my age, make sure that I stay ahead, show that I’m actually still very young at heart.” Perhaps, as many do, he’s reached a point in his life where he’s discovered comfort, rather than fear, in aging.

Vettel, now 30, has always exuded a maturity beyond his years (and looks), but it’s Hamilton who seems to have balanced his chi – Sebastian is still susceptible to fits of petulance. This occasional trait should not be his spark plug – a temporary impairment that dominoes into a negative outcome. For the want of a nail a shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe a horse was was lost...

THERE’S A CHILLY WIND blowing across Silverstone, as it often does. Porsche has just revealed three new special-edition 911s – built to celebrate the successes of Richard Attwood, Derek Bell and Nick Tandy and we are podcasting from a back room at the Experience Centre.

I’m hosting the podcast, which I admit to finding rather difficult at the best of times, let alone when faced with a trio of heroes. I struggle to keep up with the wise-cracking, fast-twitching, anecdote-laden hour of chat, and realise afterwards that I should’ve pushed one particular subject harder – that the three of them should team up for a ‘generations’ race.

Think about it, a competitive series in which three drivers from three generations race one (single-make) car for three hours. A cross between an endurance meeting and Procar with a bit of Goodwood glamour thrown in for good measure.

The cars would be rear-wheel drive (of course), naturally aspirated (of course) and the drivers would need a ‘connection’ of some kind – like our Porsche Le Mans winners. What about Roberto Ravaglia, Bernd Schneider and Paul di Resta (DTM winners) perhaps? Or Fittipaldi, Villeneuve and Franchitti (Indy 500 winners)? I think I’d still put a bet on Attwood, Bell and Tandy.

FROM A FANTASY three-hour race to a real one – the Equipe Relay, also at Silverstone. Inspired by various races at Sebring in the 1960s, where a huge variety of machinery and a carefully considered handicap made for extremely close racing, the debut Equipe Relay event was a roaring success. And I can say that from the driving seat, having been drafted in to race a beautiful blue MGB owned by John Pearson.

I’m in no doubt that my presence in the race seat was for promotional, rather than performance reasons (I possess little of the latter), but I jumped at the chance nevertheless. I’ll tell the full story next month, but suffice to say being surrounded by nearly 30 hard-charging pre-66 historics was an unforgettable experience.

As was, due to the handicap system in place, not knowing the result until well after chequered flag had fallen…

I can’t say we’ve reached the heady heights of reporting from inside a car driven by Stirling Moss on the ’55 Mille Miglia – but there’s a real energy around the Motor Sport team at the moment and I can promise all sorts of wonderful adventures in the near future.

LASTLY, I’m slightly staggered by the number of people who have contacted us to offer kind words with regards to our recent ‘refresh’; too few put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to offer positive thoughts these days, so I thank you sincerely. I try to answer as many emails as I can, so contact me via editorial@motorsportmagazine.com (FAO Nick Trott).