The great thing about awards season in motor racing is seeing various pieces of exotic metal being manhandled into the most unlikely of spaces.
This year has been a vintage one in that regard. At the end of November visitors to the RAC in Pall Mall were greeted by a full-size 19C-1E on display at in the entrance hall – no, not a rare pre-war Bugatti, but an all-electric JCB digger. The machine had just won the prestigious Dewar Trophy, awarded for outstanding British engineering. Well deserved though the award was, the yellow digger looked a little incongruous amid the splendour of Pall Mall.
A few weeks later, ahead of its inaugural Historic Awards, the club managed to manoeuvre both a 1965 Morris Mini Cooper S and 1955 OSCA into the same area (the former owned by Paddy Hopkirk) – and members of the famous club could breathe a sigh of relief that all was well in the world once again.
To be fair, the RAC is well used to putting on an automotive display in its entrance foyer. But it wasn’t alone in hosting them over award season. In early December, Valtteri Bottas created something of a stir when he drove his Mercedes W10 on to the stage at the FIA awards ceremony in Paris, to collect his award for finishing runner up in the drivers’ championship. Even our own Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders were getting in on the act, with a display of the Jaguar F-type ‘Poppy Car’ belonging to Mission Motorsport, the brilliant armed forces charity, ahead of its annual dinner at a London hotel. James Cameron, CEO of the charity, even live-tweeted his attempts at squeezing the car into the venue…
My favourite, though, came towards the end of the awards season, when Lewis Hamilton’s historic title-winning W10 appeared like a shiny early Christmas gift outside the Marriott Hotel in London’s Mayfair. As smart suited city workers wandered past rubbernecking, you couldn’t help but get a frisson of excitement at seeing such an alien-looking machine upsetting the genteel equilibrium of W1 – and one of “our” machines at that.
The Mercedes was there to herald the annual BRDC awards lunch, which attracts the great and the good of British racing. In the past it is fair to say the BRDC has not enjoyed a reputation for being particularly, erm, effervescent. To many it is the epitome of old-school conservatism, and so it was with some trepidation that I made my way to the Marriott.
From the moment that David Coulthard took to the stage, to be welcomed as the new president of the club, however, it was clear that reports of the institution’s sobriety had been exaggerated.
Coulthard started with an innuendo-laden romp through his early years as a young driver at Silverstone, before revealing how he had lost his virginity at the circuit. Cue collective intake of breath followed by guffaws of laughter. Coulthard went on to praise his predecessor Paddy Hopkirk as well as welcoming his ‘deputy’ Dario Franchitti (the latter, amusingly, playing faux outrage at being landed with the nuts-and-bolts admin of the role while DC enjoyed the trappings of his role from his home in Monaco: “Be careful what you agree to when doing a deal with DC..”).
In truth the two informal Scots symbolise what may come to be seen as a fresh breeze blowing through the grand old club. Certainly, there is no denying the youthful energy mixing it with wiser heads that ran through the awards, whether that was the tribute paid to the winner of the Autosport Young Driver Award, Johnathan Hoggard, or the joshing interviews with Lando Norris and Alex Albon, or the recognition of the relatively new Silverstone executive team, which secured the future of the British GP. It bodes well for things to come.
One person who wasn’t at the awards was the 2019 world champion. Lewis Hamilton sent his apologies from Valencia, where he was taking part in an event that enabled him to swap racing machines with Valentino Rossi (you can watch a video of the encounter on our website).
Hamilton would also be a no-show at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, where he was beaten into second place by the heroics of Ben Stokes for the England cricket team. There was some wailing and a little gnashing of teeth that, arguably, the greatest racing driver ever to grace the sport was not voted top in this, the year in which he won his sixth title.
Motor racing was not appreciated by the British public, so the argument went; the country has fallen out of love with the sport… and so on. But on sober reflection I feel compelled to point out that since 2007 Hamilton has been voted second four times (in 2007, 2008, 2018 and 2019) and won it in 2014. To my mind that record shows a remarkable depth of love among the voting public not just for Formula 1, but also for Hamilton himself. Happy New Year!
Joe Dunn, editor
Follow Joe on Twitter @joedunn90