Letters, January 2008

The spying game


Peter Ray’s letter and photograph in the December issue made me wonder: does an organisation like McLaren – all things considered – really need access to another team’s knowledge before it considers an idea as mundane as inflating its tyres with an alternative gas? Or, come to think of it, to play around with something so basic as weight distribution during its own simulations? Why would the characters who initiated the traceable communications be so excited about this type of information? Perhaps some important facts and relationships are still not out in the open.

Peter Dallimore, Towcester, Northants

The right man won


I believe I speak for the great majority of true Formula 1 enthusiasts (as opposed to those whose passion is aroused only by national chauvinism) when I state that the result of the Brazilian GP is cause for rejoicing, in the fact that the team and driver who deserved to win actually won.

Think about it. The world outside the small community of true enthusiasts will not hear how the world championship was won by a driver who was aided time and again by parties which should have maintained neutrality. Nor will they hear that a team that had all of its championship points removed for blatant cheating ended up with the drivers’ championship.

As a neutral observer (having been raised in the US and Switzerland, and then living in South America before moving to Mexico, I have no preference for team or drivers from any particular country), I have to admit that I’m overjoyed. As I watched the development of 2007, the favoritism shown both by the FIA and McLaren towards Lewis Hamilton made me a bit sick. McLaren, of course, is a business so it makes sense, but in the case of the FIA, it is inexcusable. Has Formula 1 finally decided to go all-out and imitate other types of popular entertainment? In this case I refer to professional wrestling, where the outcome is preordained and is a function of giving the audience the result it wants.

And yet, those indomitable Italians, motivated to win by things more important than money, never gave up. In the face of impossible odds just three races before, they refused to quit, passion stronger than logic. And they were rewarded for it. Grazie Ferrari!

Gustavo Bondoni, Mexico City, Mexico

Wins, not points


Following Formula 1 racing has, until the dawn of satellite telecast technology in the mid-1990s, been a considerable challenge for Americans. My own experience traces back to the 1960s when keeping pace with an F1 season required a conscientious reading of automotive magazines. The absence of stellar European and UK publications, like Motor Sport, necessitated relying on domestic publications. Most failed miserably in their attempt to provide either consistent or informed reporting, leaving vacuous gaps in understanding the evolving drivers’/constructors’ championship.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have come late to a fuller understanding of this marvellous sport, I found contention of the 2007 drivers’ championship title fight particularly frustrating. As with many American followers, the prospect of crowning Lewis Hamilton World Champion, despite having won just four races, was anathema to the meaning of sport when Kimi Räikkönen had already recorded five victories leading into the final venue in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Even if Räikkönen emerged victorious in the season’s final grand prix, Hamilton would sweep the title unless he finished seventh or poorer. Perhaps owing only to rookie nervousness or mechanical gremlins, a miscarriage of the sport was avoided. As such, circumstances remain which could produce a champion based upon podium appearances, rather than races won.

This miscarriage owes directly to a points award system that inexplicably separates the first- and second-place finishers by a mere two points. Finishing third results in only a further minor compromise, inasmuch as the six points awarded to the third-placed finisher places the driver within four points of the race winner.

In a race won by Räikkönen this past season, Hamilton finished a distant second, crossing the finish line more than 23 seconds after Räikkönen had taken the chequered flag. The fact that he was able to stand second only to Kimi and suffer a virtually inconsequential two-point differential underscores the gross inadequacy of the points award system.

Acknowledging that the points award system is a strategic attempt to keep more drivers in the hunt, and fan interest intact, the fact remains that amassing points had greater relevance decades ago when as few as six races counted towards the constructors’ and drivers’ titles.

While the UK’s national pride in Hamilton is understandable, does the rush to crown him as the next ‘great thing’ in F1 justify colouring objectivity about crowning a world champion whose season’s tally could have recorded fewer race victories than a competitor? Does F1 really want to advance a sport in which the driver’s points total is the determining criteria for the championship, rather than race victories? At the end of the day, history is inclined to recall and revere the driver who won more grand prix races than his competitors, not take pride in a driver whose points total superseded the more accomplished driver.

While I respect the traditions of Formula 1 racing and enjoy the podium ceremony that recognises the top three finishers, in the final analysis a driver who is awarded the championship on the basis of points earned rather than races won is not only deluding himself but making a mockery of the sport by redefining the true essence of victory and its inherent achievement.

To bestow the championship title on this basis exemplifies a hollow award, at best. For most who seriously understand the meaning of sport, the media’s love affair with Hamilton should not be allowed to overshadow the accomplishments of another whose on-track performance eclipsed McLaren’s new boy on the block.

J Christopher Gemmell, Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Special K


I was so relieved to see that you are finally taking up the subject of cheating at the Goodwood Revival Meeting. As a sometime competitor there, it is something I have seen happening for five or six years, often in the St Mary’s class.

In particular, cars powered by Austin’s A-series engine are much faster than when they ran originally. These cars are way up front battling with the Jaguars, eventually winning a few years back with lap times that were approximately 20 seconds quicker than those achieved in period.

But these cars have nothing to do with FIA Appendix K. They are Frankenstein monsters with five-speed gearboxes, disc brakes and 1360cc or 1480cc engines, etc.

Maybe they use blind scrutineers, who let their guide dogs inspect the cars.

Yes, I agree that it was a wonderful sight seeing a small Austin win the St Mary’s a few years back. But I could not really celebrate, because I know it was not achieved in the spirit of gentlemanly behaviour – a spirit that I battle so hard for both off-track and on. And it certainly wasn’t ‘in the spirit of Appendix K.’

This year I heard a competitor say something like this: “Goodwood want to enforce the rules, so this year they won’t allow any 948cc engines bigger than 1275cc…” A true one-liner in the rare category of motoring jokes.

I fear that the Revival’s well-earned status as the best historic car race meeting in the world will slowly change into that of a more circus-oriented show event, if the organisers do not take serious and effective steps to combat the Tour de France-like car-doping that we have seen developing.

There is no logical reason for this spiral of over-tuning the engines, which also happens in other classes. It is very expensive and gives higher average speeds, and so bigger impacts if there is an accident. If people did not over-tune throughout a class, then you could still have good battles between cars, but the whole thing would happen at an average speed which is, say, 5mph slower.

Would that lessen the experience for the spectator or driver?

I think not.

Name and address supplied

Hype pressure


I must write to say how much I agree with Alex Michaelides’ letter (Hamilton hype hater, November).

Myself and a lot of people I know were thoroughly put off the last Formula 1 season with all its hype. I have also been annoyed by the amount of printed material stating that McLaren was dealt with unfairly over the Ferrari spying scandal. Rubbish: McLaren was found guilty. The team should have been thrown out of the 2007 championship but, because of the Hamilton hype and pressure from the Brits, the FIA just could not take the team’s drivers’ points away. If it had been Ferrari caught with McLaren documents, the Brits would have called for beheadings!

I agree that Hamilton is a very talented driver, but he is the only rookie in the history of the sport to come into a top team with such a good car, and has started from the front in nearly all the races. OK, he still has to drive, but it is a lot easier if you have the best car. I will respect him when I see him consistently win points in a car that is not the fastest and deal impressively with difficult circumstances, such as starting at the back of the grid. Davidson, Button and DC were all good last season, considering their cars.

Unfortunately it appears that, thanks to all the media plaudits and superlatives, Hamilton is becoming increasingly big-headed. The more the media put him on a pedestal, the more he will think he is untouchable. I have never heard any driver – Senna, Prost, even Schuey – say, “This is my first mistake of the season. I do not make mistakes.” I think the way he drove behind the safety car in Japan was terrible and Mark Webber was right to complain.

ITV’s F1 team has really gone down in my estimation. They were pathetic when Hamilton lost it on the entry to the pitlane in the Chinese Grand Prix; I thought James Allen and Martin Brundle were going to have heart attacks. Allen could hardly get the words out of his mouth and Ted Kravitz said he thought it was strange to bring out tyres for Alonso! Bring back Murray. As Alex Michaelides said, the ITV coverage should really be called The Lewis Hamilton Show. A real put-off, and a far cry from the days of real heroes such as Moss and Fangio.

Roll on next season – having no traction control will really sort the men from the boys…

Christine Potts, Southport, Merseyside

Mk2 isn’t necessarily second best


I enjoyed reading the Lotus-Cortina feature in the December issue and was particularly tickled to see the shot of Jacky Ickx three-wheeling his works car at Brands: it wasn’t only Jim Clark who made them dance. I do, however, think that the author was a mite dismissive of the Mk2 version. As he says, it was more Ford than Lotus but, considering the reliability and build quality issues that afflicted the Mk1, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Mk2 was an aspirational car in its day and few tin-tops have ever looked as good as the Alan Mann Racing cars in red and gold, especially when driven in the BSCC by Frank Gardner. Add in other Mk2 aces of the era such as Mr Ickx, Richard Attwood and Graham Hill and you have to agree that the Mk2 has pedigree, too.

Bruce Campbell, Penn, Wolverhampton

24-hour party pooper


I very much enjoyed Andrew Frankel’s piece on the Jaguar XKR’s outing in the Britcar 24 Hours, and look forward to watching many successful outings from the car, and hope it will compete at Le Mans.

However he is mistaken when he claims Apex’s effort represented the first Jaguar 24-hour race appearance since 1991. For starters, I draw your attention to the TWR-run XJR-12D that was second at Daytona in 1992, TWR’s XJ220s at Le Mans in 1993 and the PC Automotive versions of the same car at La Sarthe in 1995 – I don’t doubt there are more…

Paul Price, Kensington, London W8

Ickx hiccups


It was a pleasure to see the Jacky Ickx feature in December’s Motor Sport, and I agree with the author’s opinion that the Belgian is one of the all-time greats. However, I will take issue with a few points. I’m sure it was just a slip of the keyboard where, towards the end of the story, it states that he won Le Mans for the first time in 1979: earlier on in the piece it quite rightly mentions that his maiden victory was a whole 10 years prior. I would also add that he didn’t win the 1983 Paris-Dakar after retiring from circuit racing. Jacky quit sports cars for good two years after his triumph in the desert. I would also like to say how gratifying it is to see that his daughter Vanina (who is very, very lovely…) is perpetuating the Ickx name in endurance racing.

Sebastian Tombs, Alberta, Canada

Stick up for Sir Jackie!


Having just read Sir Jackie Stewart’s excellent autobiography I am reminded how much he has contributed to the sport in terms of safety, promotion and integrity. However I am rather bemused as to why Max Mosley’s recent attack on Sir Jackie, criticising his nationality, dress code and his dyslexia, seems to have gone almost without comment in the motoring press. Had Max been an MP, for example, he would certainly have been forced to resign. I am sure that Max has certain skeletons in his family that he does not like being reminded of!

Am I being cynical in thinking that the lack of outrage in many publications is more to do with keeping FIA press passes rather than justice?

Graeme Forrester, Cockermouth, Cumbria

Wanted: more characters


Congratulations to all concerned on Motor Sport’s return to form. It was a real treat to read about some of the less well-known characters that make up our sport – Jack Lewis, Oreste Berta and Mickey Thompson – in recent issues. More, please!

Charles Napier, Bend, Oregon