Matters of Moment, January 2012

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181

Christian Horner was always canny, even when his team wasn’t winning. I first got to know him when his Formula 3000 equipe, the grandly named Arden International, was failing to deliver on its obvious promise. The lack of results were an annoyance, a frustration, but Christian was already looking further ahead. This former (mediocre) racing driver was gaining an influential voice in a little world that sometimes felt like an afterthought, tagged as it was on to the back of European Formula 1 paddocks. Little did we know he was serving an apprenticeship that would lead to multiple Grand Prix wins and World Championships.

F3000 was the platform Horner used to build rapports with both Bernie Ecclestone and then-FIA president Max Mosley. And when Arden started winning, he grew in authority and ambition. Those around him, and above him, took note.

Horner was always friendly and approachable, choosing his words carefully on the record – and less so off it. He retained a healthy sense of perspective and conversations didn’t always stick to the narrow world of racing gossip. One such conversation led to him challenging colleague Simon Arron and I to a game of five-a-side indoor football. We took him up on it, headed up to Banbury – and promptly thrashed him and the Arden boys! He took it remarkably well, but we’ll never let him forget it no matter how many world titles he wins…

What a shrewd recruitment Dietrich Mateschitz made when he hired Horner to run his F1 team. As Simon Taylor’s ‘Lunch with’ interview highlights in this issue, Christian’s achievement is remarkable, leading a woefully underperforming team to double title glory in just seven seasons. And happily, there’s no big secret – just plain common sense, respect and decency when it comes to managing his staff,
his drivers and the media. In short, Christian Horner hasn’t changed a bit. How refreshing.

*

Insinuations of bribery, blackmail, tax evasion… yes, it’s just another month in the incredible life of Bernie Ecclestone. His appearance as a witness in the high-profile trial of a German banker offered some uncomfortable insight into the foundations on which CVC’s F1 ownership deal was built. Some have suggested that this grubby case (see page 16) could prove to be Ecclestone’s downfall, but that remains to be seen. Whatever the consequences, the most alarming point is this: no one in the sport appears to have any clue about a succession plan, or even whether one actually exists. Despite or perhaps because of CVC’s ownership of F1, Bernie’s iron grip on the sport remains intact. With no obvious alternative, that might be just as well. When he does depart, Ecclestone’s legacy could be one that is entirely befitting of his character: total chaos.

*

We must be careful when it comes to labelling Sebastian Vettel among the all-time greats, given that he’s considered a mere sapling at 24 years of age. But only the grouchiest curmudgeon would refuse to concede that he’s made a pretty good start. Consider too a few nuggets offered our way by his team principal this month.

Poor Christian must have wondered if Motor Sport was stalking him. On the Friday between the Korean and Indian Grands Prix, he’d already spent two and a half hours in the company of Simon Taylor. Later that evening, he arrived at the BRDC’s Silverstone clubhouse to offer the benefit of his experience to an appreciative group of ‘Rising Star’ young drivers – only to find me there, a grateful guest preparing to earwig.

Before he addressed the young aces, who would hang on his every word, he told me something that gave an example of how Vettel operates away from the track. On the Wednesday after his victory in Korea, Sebastian was back at the team’s Milton Keynes base to address the whole staff and thank them for another world title won. He spoke to 550 people, unscripted, not for five minutes – but for 35. No wonder they love him at the factory.

And after that, what next? He headed for the simulator of course, and spent four hours preparing for the Indian GP. You might have noticed he dominated that race too.

At Team Lotus, the mechanics loved Jim Clark as much for the man he was as the drives he put in, and you might have noticed in the last issue that the same was true of Sir Jackie Stewart and the boys at Tyrrell. Vettel too appears to understand that it takes more than pure speed to be successful. The record books are at his mercy.

*

If I’ve learnt one thing during my time here at Motor Sport, it’s that a story we write is never finished. Take the Porsche 917 ‘Pink Pig’ which graced the cover of the November issue, for example.

Respected designer Peter Stevens got in touch to tell us the truth behind that porcine livery (see page 44), and then an e-mail landed from Gerry Sutterfield, the Porsche specialist who cared for and restored the car after its short competition life. Sadly, Mr Sutterfield was not impressed. In our story Klaus Bischof, former mechanic and now director of Porsche’s museum where the Pink Pig resides, had made a flippant remark about the car lacking a crankshaft on its return to Germany and that “maybe Mr Sutterfield has it on his desk”. We’re very happy to set the record straight that he doesn’t. Then again, it never occurred to any of us that he actually did. Still, sorry for any offence caused, Mr Sutterfield.

Happily, the letter also set us straight on another fact of greater relevance: the true state of the 917’s front brake pads and discs when the car reached Mr Sutterfield (again, turn to page 44). Reinhold Joest’s claims of innocence in the crash that ended its race take on greater weight.

As usual, we strive to be definitive. Let’s just say we’ll keep on trying!

*

Spent a happy weekend revelling in Martin Scorsese’s masterful documentary on George Harrison. As Sir Jackie Stewart and Nigel Roebuck reminded us last month, George was a great racing enthusiast and it was a passion he shared with his old mate Eric Clapton. ‘Slowhand’, of course, was a key interviewee for Living in the Material World, and what should be sitting behind his right shoulder every time he spoke? A cover of Motor Sport! We suspect it was a personalised and doctored cover rather than a genuine issue, but we’re not about to quibble. As far as we’re concerned, the grafitti was right: Clapton is indeed God!

*

We’re already deep into preparations for the 2012 Motor Sport Hall of Fame, which will take place for the third year running at the Roundhouse in London on February 16. So who will join the roll call of 16 great names who have already taken their place in our exclusive club? Well, here’s a chance for you to tell us who we should honour this time around.

Visit our fab new-look website (still at www.motorsportmagazine.com) and check out the new Hall of Fame section, then let us know your choices for worthy inductees. By doing so, you’ll be entered into a competition to win tickets for our exclusive evening. There are five pairs up for grabs – so perhaps I’ll see you there.

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