Matters of moment, February 2014

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It’s become something of a running joke in these parts that editor-in-chief Nigel Roebuck doesn’t ‘do’ social media, particularly since he wrote about his reservations on our website a few months ago.

Of course, by submitting that article he inadvertently made himself a talking point for a few hours, suitably enough, on Twitter. How exquisite.

Perhaps it’s just as well for Nigel to avoid the ‘twitterati’. After all, it can become addictive. For all the blather, there’s usually something engaging to read and, since joining the masses, I dread to think how much of my time social media has taken up. It’s now the fastest way to keep abreast of current affairs and, when a story breaks, such as the FIA’s Strategy Group rulings in December, there’s no better method of catching the global mood.

So that Monday night, on I logged: “I think I know what some of you might say to this question, but… what do you think of the FIA rulings today?” Within minutes, racing enthusiasts in large numbers had confirmed my suspicions. Thoughts on fixed car numbers for drivers and the introduction of a cost cap split opinion, in the latter’s case because of justified doubts over policing team spend. But on the awarding of double points for next year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, they spoke as one.

Nigel gives his view (I’d describe it as ‘withering’) on page 52. Here, I thought I’d share some of the responses to my teed up question – in no more than 140 characters, of course.

“FIA rulings – very strange,” said David Harbey. “Seems almost desperation. Is this the best they can come up with?”

Ben Dunnell added: “The double points proposal makes the BTCC look positively purist,” while Steve Roy pointed out: “If we’d had double points at Interlagos last season the only difference would be Pérez not Hülkenberg in 10th in the champ.”

Jonathan Layzell’s view will chime with many long-time readers of this magazine: “Winning a Grand Prix used to mean everything. Diminished now by number of rounds and total focus on championship,” while someone going by the name of Oily Rag Racing wrote: “New system devalues the whole championship. F1’s full of gimmicks now. Backlash will be massive when the ‘wrong’ driver wins.”

Perhaps the perfect summary was offered by Twitter F1 favourite, ‘Fake Charlie Whiting’: “I think it’s the greatest idea to come out of the Strategy Working Group since glass helmets.”

I wonder if the real one would concur.

The anger spread over forums and website comment sections everywhere, including ours. F1 has tested the patience of its fans innumerable times before, of course, but I don’t previously recall so many threatening to turn off from the sport we’re struggling to still think of as ‘Grand Prix motor racing’.

We’re used to disdain for the diehard purists in F1, as Bernie Ecclestone and his employers at CVC Capital Partners chase the mass market. They’re more than aware that F1’s audience is aging, despite its size, and the pressure is on to attract new, younger fans. But they shouldn’t confuse youth with stupidity. Such rule contrivances make a mockery of the sport to anyone, whatever their age or levels of dedication.

Plot well and truly lost? Some would argue it went missing years ago.

The signing of Kimi Räikkönen to join Fernando Alonso inspired this month’s cover story on Ferrari’s 20 greatest Formula 1 drivers.

*******

For the first time since Giuseppe Farina and Alberto Ascari were forced to rub along together way back in 1953, the Prancing Horse will have two crowned World Champions in its stable this year. It’s a fascinating prospect.

Had wins and championships dictated our order, this task would have been easy (step forward M Schumacher). But of all teams, Ferrari is about so much more than cold, hard numbers. As you can read on page 61, Simon Arron’s brief was tougher than that. Twenty is not many when you consider every Ferrari driver since the war, and there will be howls of protest at the lack of Jean Alesi, Gerhard Berger, Lodovico Scarfiotti, Michele Alboreto and others. But the most notable omission, given our reasons for starting this argument in the first place, is Räikkönen himself.

The Kimster is a Ferrari World Champion (unlike his new team-mate), but compared to his years at McLaren and Lotus Räikkönen’s performances in red have largely been underwhelming to date, with notable exceptions – mostly at Spa. He still has work to do to become a bone fide Ferrari legend.

But will he have the grit and motivation to challenge hardman Alonso in the Spaniard’s domain? We’ll only truly find out if Ferrari can produce a competitive car to the new regulations. It’s often been said F1 needs Ferrari to be at the sharp end to thrive. With this driver line-up, and in the wake of Sebastian Vettel’s dominance, the notion has never been more true.

*******

By the time you read this we have high hopes that at long last JS will now be know as SJS: Sir John Surtees. The great man doesn’t need a knighthood to confirm his status within Britain and his sport, but even so the recognition is long overdue.

The timing would surely be perfect as we dive into 2014, not only the year of his big 8-0, but also of course the 50th anniversary of his F1 World Championship for Ferrari. With that in mind, I hope you’ll join us at the NEC in Birmingham on January 9-12 to salute a genuine sporting giant.

John’s career on two wheels and four will be marked at Autosport International, the racing car show that traditionally blows open the doors of the new racing season. Among the cars on show will be his title-winning Ferrari 158, his maiden F1 car, the Lotus 18, and the MV Augusta on which he ended his astonishing bike racing career with a flourish in 1960.

New World Endurance Champions Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen will also visit the show, along with Martin Brundle, Adrian Sutil, BTCC champ Andrew Jordan, Matt Neal, Gary Paffett and many more. There’s also the intriguing prospect of a Lotus 79 and 49B running in the Live Action Arena. I’ve passed on the indoor spectacle in recent years, but this I’ve got to see…
Motor Sport will have an increased presence at the show this year, with two stands to make sure you really can’t miss us. One will feature the Scalextric track that proved so popular last year, so do come along and beat my time – just like the rest of Birmingham.

Awards season proved a busy one this winter for Motor Sport, following nominations in two ceremonies for our superb digital products, available to read on iPad and Android. We were also delighted that our online assistant Alex Harmer received great recognition by winning the annual Renault MSA Young Journalist of the Year award, a trophy previously claimed by his website boss Ed Foster in 2008. You might have spotted Alex’s name peppering pages in the magazine as well as on our website – he’s been prolific in his first year on the staff. The award, in a highly competitive year, is fully deserved.

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