Will the new F1 regulations destabilise Red Bull? When will one of the top teams see sense and sign Nico Hülkenberg? And has F1’s safety crusade taken a step too far?
It is the evening of Sunday, November 17, as I write, and a few minutes ago a Texan lady in my hotel asked me what seemed to her a very reasonable question. “Is anyone else,” she said, “ever going to win another Grand Prix? I mean, do they all have to wait until this guy quits?”
As I said, a not unreasonable question. In the build-up to the US Grand Prix all they had heard about was Sebastian Vettel winning this race, winning that, clinching yet another World Championship – and now, at Circuit of the Americas, they had seen him take his eighth victory on the trot, something not even Michael Schumacher managed to achieve.
This time Seb didn’t waltz away into the middle distance – although one suspects that he could have done – but still he came away with a full set from the weekend, taking pole, leading from the start and, for the hell of it, setting fastest lap just a couple from the flag. After qualifying Fernando Alonso joked that, “They could put a GP2 engine in that car and it would still be on pole…” I think he was joking, anyway.
What everyone is clinging to is the thought that, with the new regulations, ‘blown exhausts’ or ‘blown floors’ or whatever you want to call them will be out of the window in 2014, and then perhaps Vettel will have a little more of a struggle on his hands. Red Bull has made this technology work far more effectively than any other team, and Sebastian has mastered the technique – completely counter-intuitive, as other drivers have pointed out – of getting the most from it better than any other.
He is still only 26, and ‘blown floors’ have been in his repertoire almost from the beginning. Perhaps it’s a little like Bernd Rosemeyer, Seb’s fellow-countryman from three-quarters of a century ago: no one – not even Nuvolari – drove the wayward, rear-engined, Auto Unions like Rosemeyer, and many ascribed this in part to the fact that he never raced any other cars; that he had, in effect, nothing to un-learn.
Vettel’s rivals, therefore, look with optimism to next year, hoping that, with the ‘blown floor’ gone, he and Red Bull might not have the dominance we have come to take for granted. One, though, who didn’t wish to be named, was less confident: “Listen, Adrian [Newey] is still there, isn’t he? You just know he’ll come up with something…”
The weekend at Circuit of the Americas was again a great success, and the place has established itself as a firm favourite with the F1 community, but perhaps this time around everything was a little… paler than at the inaugural race a year ago. It’s a fact that the 2012 US Grand Prix, wherein Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren chased down and eventually beat Vettel, was a far better race than this rather pedestrian affair, but more than that there were signs of cutbacks here and there – hardly surprising, since the Ecclestone-negotiated CVC fee for the race has increased substantially, as tends to be the way of it, year on year.
In some countries, such a thing is readily accommodated by a government bureaucrat doing what he’s told, and simply signing it off, but this is America and, as in Britain, there is not a cent of public money involved. Like Silverstone, Circuit of the Americas has somehow to stand on its own feet, and the fact that the crowd – while still extremely healthy by the standards of the day – was down from last year will be a concern to its management: ‘the gate’, after all, is the only source of income available to a hapless circuit owner these days, all other monies from the event being hoovered away.
Circuit of the Americas is a magnificent facility, and there is clear evidence that the money has been spent not on stupidly flashy buildings but on the things that matter at a race track, not least the circuit itself. The all-important paddock – trust me, they do not all feel the same – is just the right size, and thus feels welcoming and immediately familiar. Those who last year suggested it had echoes of Adelaide were on the money, and COTA could have been paid no greater compliment. Find me someone who prefers Melbourne and I’ll find you a liar.
Over the weekend a revised, abbreviated 2014 World Championship was circulated, and to no one’s surprise three Grands Prix on the original schedule – two of them New Jersey and Mexico – are no longer there. This time next year work on the circuit in Mexico City will have been completed, allowing the race to be on the following year’s calendar, but while there remain slim hopes that ‘The Grand Prix of America’, across the water from Manhattan, will take place finally in 2015, chances are put no higher than 50:50, and if there is ultimately to be a second race in the United States there is greater optimism for an eventual return – after 30 years away – to Long Beach. Such a development would assuredly be received with pleasure in the F1 community – as was the news that the Korean Grand Prix at deathless Yeongam has also been struck from the 2014 schedule. Something to do with money, apparently. That’s a surprise, isn’t it?
Following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which brought him his second victory in a week, his seventh on the trot and his 11th of the season, Sebastian Vettel, I was amused to note, led not only the championship for drivers but effectively that for constructors, too. He had at that stage contributed 347 points to Red Bull’s tally, while for Mercedes the combined efforts of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were good for only 334. After Austin it is even more conclusive than that: Sebastian 372, Mercedes 348…
Mark Webber, on pole in Abu Dhabi by virtue of an inspired lap, finished second in the race, but seemed quite relaxed afterwards, and if his personal enthusiasm for his team-mate has always been well under control, he took nothing away from his latest stunning performance: “Seb’s in a sweet spot at the moment, for sure…”
Vettel, for his part, appeared almost bemused by the sheer ease of it all: “At times,” he said, “I felt almost as if I was flying – you don’t get cars like this too often…” Well, no, you don’t, so when one comes your way, savour it and make the most of it, as did Schumacher with sundry Ferraris a decade or so ago. When you’re in this almost surreal position, races surrender as soon as the lights are out and Sebastian, like Michael, must now arrive in a paddock subconsciously assuming that, barring the untoward, he will win on Sunday. Few racing drivers in history have experienced such a state of grace.
Hamilton recently declared that had Fernando Alonso been a Red Bull driver these four or five years past, his domination would have been greater even than Vettel’s. That we’ll never know, but what we can say beyond doubt is that as Adrian Newey and his team have yet further improved their car (as in the second half of the season), Vettel has gone with it all the way. I remember talking to Mario Andretti about the Lotus 79 with which he won the World Championship 35 years ago. “When you have a car that’s fundamentally better than anything else,” he said, “everything else falls into place. OK, back then we didn’t have the reliability they take for granted these days, but if the car held together the chances were you would win. And when you’ve got that inbuilt superiority, life gets easier all the way round because you don’t have to push yourself – or the car – to the edge all the time…”
Vettel likes collecting statistics, and even when leading literally by a mile and more will quite often – to the despair of his race engineer – crank out a new fastest lap towards the end of a Grand Prix. It’s readily there in the car, and he knows it, and what could ever be more dispiriting for the rest?
If it were not enough that Sebastian is a brilliant racing driver, with quantifiably the best car at his disposal, so it must also be borne in mind that to this point in his career he has had extraordinarily good fortune. I’ll go with those who say ‘You make your own luck’ only just so far: I know what they’re getting at, to some degree, but still the fact remains that Vittorio Brambilla won a Grand Prix and Chris Amon never did. Having won, at the age of 26, virtually a third of the World Championship races in which he has driven, Vettel has rarely had need of good luck, but when required it has invariably been there for him. Think of the championship decider at Interlagos last year, when he screwed up comprehensively on the opening lap, coming by the pits dead last and with a significantly damaged car: few would have bet a cent on that Red Bull completing the 71 laps, but it did – and in the sixth place Sebastian needed for the title.
Had Vettel’s driving error cost him, had his car later failed, Alonso would have won the championship – as, come to that, he would also have done in 2010 had DRS been introduced one race earlier, for then he (and Webber) would have been able easily to deal with Vitaly Petrov’s swift-in-a-straight-line Renault at the Abu Dhabi title-decider. In World Championships Sebastian leads Fernando 4-2, but it could so easily have been the other way round.
As it was, DRS did not make its entrance until the opening race of 2011, so for Vettel the timing was perfect, and recently I was struck again by how important that can be as Franz Tost explained why Daniil Kvyat had been selected by Helmut Marko to partner Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso in 2014.
“Kvyat has been chosen,” said Tost, “because this year he has shown very good performance in GP3, as well as in European F3, and we from Red Bull are all convinced that he has the talent and the natural speed to come into F1, and to become a successful driver straight away…”
The thought occurred that had Webber decided to call time on his F1 career a year earlier than he did, and had Daniel Ricciardo been promoted to Red Bull in his stead, logically the next step would have been for Toro Rosso to take Antonio Felix da Costa, who had excelled during 2012 not only in GP3 but also, later, in the Renault 3.5 series (as well as winning Macau’s F3 showpiece).
Unfortunately for him, da Costa’s 2013 Renault 3.5 campaign has been up and down, so it is Kvyat – with whom he shares an apartment – who has got the nod. One hopes that this is not the end of a Grand Prix career before it started, that da Costa doesn’t fall through the net, but such is the way of recruitment to F1 these days that he very well might. Red Bull’s Young Driver programme is admirable in its intent, but as such as Jaime Alguersuari can tell you it is also singularly ruthless in its application.
Rumours persist that Kvyat’s selection for Toro Rosso has been in no way impeded by the gelt he reportedly brings with him. It might be true, it might not, but there is no getting away from the fact that, when it comes to choosing drivers, money talks these days as it never has before. We may be five years on from the financial meltdown gifted us by all those darling bankers, but for quite a time the paddock was shielded from immediate impact because existing sponsorship contracts still had to be honoured – even by taxpayer-rescued outfits like RBS.
Once those contracts expired, however, they were for the most part not renewed, and in the fiscal climate of the recent past it has been mighty difficult to replace them. “This paddock,” a team principal murmured to me a couple of years ago, “is a house of cards. There are three or four teams with financial security – and the rest are on the edge…”
Nothing has brought this into sharper focus than the recent controversy surrounding Räikkönen and Lotus. Kimi might be economical with words, but those to which he does give voice tend to be much to the point. When asked why he was leaving Lotus – a team with which he has been fundamentally happier than any other – for Ferrari, he didn’t come forth with a selection of PR sound bites about the thrills of Maranello: he was going, he said, because Lotus owed him money.
In the paddock at Abu Dhabi there was no sign of Räikkönen on the Thursday, and while ordinarily that wouldn’t have provoked much comment – Kimi doesn’t care for double-headers, and last year similarly didn’t show his face at Interlagos until Friday morning – on this occasion speculation mounted that he wouldn’t be seen in a Lotus again. Team and driver had not, after all, parted on the best of terms in India the previous weekend, following a late-race radio altercation, when Räikkönen foolishly held up team-mate Romain Grosjean, and was advised by trackside operations director Alan Permane to ‘get out of the f****** way’.
In the event Kimi did eventually report for duty in Abu Dhabi, having been sweet-talked by the team’s owners, but he made very clear the extent of his dissatisfaction: in 2013, he said, he had not been paid one euro.
Lotus team owner Gérard Lopez suggested that the problem has been one of cashflow (as also endured by Räikkönen in 2012): new investment from an outfit calling itself Quantum Motorsports was definitely on its way, he insisted, but it had taken longer than expected to transfer the money. OK…
For Lotus, the affair has obviously been a very public embarrassment, for this is a high-profile team employing – and failing to pay – one of the world’s greatest drivers. Within this saga, though, there are deeper implications for the sport, for Kimi is by no means the only F1 driver to go through 2013 without a pay cheque. Up and down pitlane there are teams in dire financial trouble.
This is why we are into an era of ‘pay drivers’ like we have never seen before. The plan had been for Hülkenberg to take over the Lotus drive left vacant by Räikkönen, but as the Quantum money appeared to evaporate, Nico gloomily reckoned that his chance had gone. A return to Force India looks to be his best option, but it says everything about the precarious state of F1 that for some time it seemed entirely possible that this gifted young man – destined for the heights, as far as I’m concerned – might actually be left without a drive.
Why? Because the six-foot Hülkenberg is not only heavy on weight – never a plus point for a racing driver, but especially not so in the forthcoming F1, wherein designers are having trouble getting their cars near the minimum weight limit – but also light on cash. Unlike many of his fellows, Nico doesn’t have a giant personal sponsor behind him, and while in a perfect world only talent would matter, life is rarely like that… and emphatically not so in these present times.
Hülkenberg already has four years of F1 behind him, but has yet – unaccountably – to drive for a top team. Signed by Williams for 2010, he was pushed out by Pastor Maldonado’s bolivars after a single season, then spent a couple of years with Force India (the first as test driver) before opting to join Sauber.
When Lewis Hamilton left for Mercedes, Hülkenberg was considered too heavy by McLaren, who surprisingly went for Sergio Pérez, a decision many ascribed only to the fact that Pérez enjoys the patronage of Carlos Slim. Now Martin Whitmarsh has rightly taken a chance on promoting a young in-house driver (as with Hamilton seven years ago) and put Kevin Magnussen in the car for 2014.
If McLaren let Hülkenberg slip through its fingers, so also did Ferrari. Once it had been concluded that Felipe Massa’s time was finally up, the choice was between Räikkönen and Hülkenberg, and we know who got the deal. My feeling remains that Ferrari made the wrong decision: at 26, Nico is eight years younger than Kimi (as well as dramatically cheaper), and looks ready to hack it with anyone in a top car.
In the late days of October Eric Boullier was saying that in 2014 the Lotus seat vacated by Räikkönen would be filled by Hülkenberg – or Maldonado. No one needs telling that Pastor can be very quick, but Nico is plainly on quite a different level. That said, what he doesn’t have, of course, is a Venezuelan petro-dollars cheque with a surprising number of noughts on it, so without the promised investment from Quantum, his Lotus opportunity apparently disappeared into the ether.
You can say, if you wish – and I sure as hell wouldn’t argue – that if there were even a possibility of a driver of Hülkenberg’s ability missing out on a drive, that’s proof enough that Formula 1 has lost its way.
If it has long prided itself on being the technological summit of motor racing, so also it has blithely assumed itself to be the home of ‘the best drivers in the world’. Yes, we have our Vettels and Alonsos, and at the very top level I continue to look upon this as one of the great vintages in GP racing history, but if – beyond the leading handful – the teams’ choice of drivers is ever more dictated by ‘ability to pay’, the overall quality of the field inevitably dissipates. To a degree, that has been true for years, but never, I think, as overtly as now.
That said, in the short term, at least, there is probably no alternative. Many teams are fighting to stay alive, and until the financial climate improves significantly that situation will abide. It is not helped, of course, by the arrival of the new F1, with its prodigiously expensive ‘hybrid’ turbo engines. We’ve all got the message about motor racing’s need to be seen to be green, and all the rest of it, and there’s no doubt that the change in engine specification will encourage manufacturers – like Honda – to the sport again, but while that is of course good in itself the short-term financial implication for the smaller teams is calamitous.
People point out to me that the teams’ slice of Bernie Ecclestone’s cake is now bigger than it used to be (particularly so for the big four, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes), and quite right, too, since it is they who bake it in the first place, and if they stopped doing that he would have nothing to sell. As I’ve mentioned many times before, Bernie’s genius as a salesman has made a great many people inordinately rich, and that of course has always been his powerbase: in the advent of dissension, the easiest way to shut people up is to stuff their mouths with dollars.
It never much concerned me that Ecclestone was himself becoming a billionaire on the back of F1 because, as I say, it was he who brought the big money to it in the first place, he who did a job that was beyond anyone else. I don’t, though, entertain any such thoughts about those who now ‘own’ F1, who have contributed zilch to its well-being, let alone its growth, and indeed are actively harming its future.
It was back in April 2001 that the racing world learned, to its stupefaction, that FIA President Max Mosley had sold the commercial rights to F1 to Ecclestone, not only for a small fraction of their true worth, but – astonishingly – for 100 years, no less. “Have you ever in your life,” Ken Tyrrell said to me at the time, “heard of any deal being negotiated for a hundred years?”
This was but a few months before Tyrrell’s death, and the last time I ever spoke to him. If he was physically frail, his feistiness remained and this news from Paris appalled him. “Of course,” he said, “you know what’ll happen now, don’t you? Bernie will flog the rights on to a bunch of bloody asset-strippers…”
We raised this possibility repeatedly with Mosley, but he assured us it could not happen. In anticipation of any such thing, he said, the deal contained what he liked to call ‘the Don King clause’, this a reference to the notorious boxing promoter, renowned for putting his own interests before those of others. The gist of this clause, Max smoothly told us, was that it gave the FIA the right to block any subsequent sale of the commercial rights which might prove other than beneficial to F1.
I never forgot Tyrrell’s remark and thus, when it was announced in March 2006 that CVC Capital Partners had acquired ‘majority control’ of F1, I wondered how and why the deal had contrived to sidestep Don King, how the FIA had managed to persuade itself that the sport was safe in the hands of a private equity company, which necessarily exists for no purpose save to make great gobs of money for itself and its investors.
Seven years on, CVC has indeed done very nicely, thank you, out of F1, milking untold millions from it each year and putting back – as far as one can discern – not a dime.
When I think back to Mosley’s time at the FIA, I am the first to agree that Max achieved a lot, most notably for safety within the sport, but by no means all that he did was good, and in my eyes he stands condemned first for the deal he made with Bernie, and second – even more overwhelmingly – that he did nothing to prevent F1 from sliding into the ownership of folk who didn’t give a toss about it, who saw it only as a gravy train.
Undeniably it was smart of CVC to retain the services of Ecclestone, for they understood his unique role in this very specialised business, recognised his ability to do deals like no one else. For now, at least, Bernie remains in that position, but if developments in the ongoing Gribkowsky case cause that to change, one wonders how long it will be before the ‘private equity company’ – sorry, Ken – scarpers. About a minute and a half, I’d say.
As and when that moment arrives, there will be reason enough for the biggest party ever seen in motor racing, but until it does the World Championship will – apart from anything else – continue to abandon its faithful, and to spread to countries in which governments (not all of them despotic) are prepared to pay through the nose for the prestige of hosting a Grand Prix, where thinly-populated white elephant ‘autodromes’ bring cheer to CVC’s investors and no one else.
Ability to pay: whatever the endless claptrap about the need for a World Championship, it’s about nothing else.
And then there are the teams, of course, putting on the show, yet for the most part struggling to make any financial sense of it. One of Hülkenberg’s talent cannot take a drive – any drive – for granted, yet a well-connected adolescent with a sack of roubles apparently can, if we are to believe what we hear of Sauber’s plans for 2014. There is of course to be a Russian Grand Prix next year, personally negotiated with that nice Mr Putin.
Folk who should know assure me they are not blowing smoke when they say F1 is in a parlous state, with teams – several teams – on the edge of a financial precipice. Nero fiddles, apparently.
Saturday, April 18 1959. We got to Aintree at about nine o’clock, and my dad parked near the fence in what was known as Picnic Loop, between two left-handers, Cottage and Country. As we got out of the car, we at once heard in the distance a racing engine that, in that era of four-cylinder Climaxes and BRMs, could only be a Ferrari.
The sound got louder – and then, out of Cottage Corner, burst this scarlet Dino 246, bearing the number 2. Behra! Past us he came, hard on it – and, believe it or not, wearing neither helmet nor goggles. Well, no need to stand on ceremony – it was only a quick test run, after all, requested by Ferrari to check that a misfire in practice had been cured…
It had, and later in the day my hero duly won the Aintree 200, the last victory of his life. I remember it all, not least his lap of honour, as he waved to the crowd, but when I think back to that day my first memory is of the bare-headed lap in the morning. If we’d arrived a couple of minutes later, we would have missed it.
This came back to me when Fernando Alonso gave Mark Webber a lift back to the paddock at the conclusion of the Singapore Grand Prix: it was another of those out-of-nowhere moments that one has always so much savoured, even more so in an era in which any kind of unconventional behaviour has been all but drummed out of the sport.
I’ll confess, though, that as Alonso dropped his buddy off, the thought occurred that almost certainly the stewards would be looking at this, and so they were. Later it was announced that both drivers had been given a reprimand, the lightest penalty available to the stewards, but if this meant little to Fernando it was a very different matter for Mark, who already had two reprimands against his name, and thus incurred a 10-place grid penalty at the next race, Korea.
Like many others, I was initially outraged that this time-honoured practice – remember Senna riding back with Mansell at Silverstone in 1991? – had resulted in punishment, and what really surprised me was that the ‘driver steward’ in Singapore was Derek Warwick, in my experience hardly a member of the milk and water brigade.
Warwick, however, put forward the stewards’ case simply and eloquently, stressing that Webber and Alonso had not been penalised for the ‘taxi ride’ per se. The problem, he said, lay in the way it started, with Fernando stopping his car in a dangerous place, and Mark running across to it without permission from the marshals.
Derek, as I would have expected, made clear he saw nothing wrong in a driver’s getting a lift back on another car, but once they had seen video of how it began, the stewards had no choice but to take action. It was probably no more than inevitable, however, that at once there arose suggestions that henceforth the ‘taxi ride’ – in any circumstances – would be banned.
This is a curious world we live in. For years Formula 1 has increasingly tried to make itself more of ‘A Show’, and in ways that have sometimes seemed cheap and gimmicky, yet the paradox is that any attempt at ‘showmanship’ by the drivers appears to incur only wrath from the powers-that-be. I used to love it, for example, when victorious drivers would stop on their slowing-down lap, and collect a national flag – behaviour which is still de rigueur in MotoGP, but emphatically not encouraged in F1. Talk about ‘lighten up’…
In India Sebastian Vettel – of course – won the race, but more significantly also clinched his fourth World Championship. After taking the flag Seb was reminded by his race engineer to follow the normal ‘parc fermé’ procedure, but in his elation he was having none of that, and instead by-passed the pitlane, pulled up in the middle of the start-finish straight and proceeded – to the delight of the crowd – to put the Red Bull though a series of smoky donuts. That done, he climbed from the car and ran towards the stands, mercifully thinking better of a Castroneves-style climb of the debris fencing, but nevertheless throwing his gloves into the crowd as he acknowledged their cheers.
It was a lovely moment of free expression in a tightly controlled world – but inevitably, as I watched Seb’s antics, I thought, “This is going to cost you…”
And it did. Vettel may have enraptured his audience, but today’s Formula 1 makes no allowance for moments of abandon. By not returning directly to parc fermé, Sebastian had ‘broken the rules’, and the Red Bull team was duly fined. With the system the way it is, the stewards had no alternative, but it all seemed so… joyless.
Rules have proliferated – multiplied – in F1 these last few years, as they have in the workaday world. “It’s just changed a lot,” remarked Webber after his Singapore incident. “That’s the way it is now, mate, in sport and in life.”
No argument there. I’m sure Messrs Newey, Horner and Roquelin, while enjoying Vettel’s exuberance in India, were also wincing at what he was doing to his engine and clutch, but the stewards’ concern lay with his breaking of the parc fermé rule. Why, that car could have been tampered with before it was brought back to the pits…
Mainly, though, the unsmiling response to any sort of outré behaviour from our Grand Prix drivers has its roots in ‘elf and safety’ and this extraordinarily – forgive my using the phrase – ‘risk-averse’ society we have become.
Look at the whole ‘white lines’ thing. So safe have the circuits become, so vast the tarmac run-off areas – particularly at the new generation Tilkedromes like Abu Dhabi – that aerial shots give the impression that the track itself is no more than a suggested guideline for the drivers to follow.
When first we went to Turkey, and the already defunct (in Formula 1 terms, at least) Istanbul Park in 2005, the drivers were enthusiastic about it, particularly raving about the high-speed, multi-apex turn eight, but I remember something Juan Pablo Montoya told me about it:
“On one lap I got it wrong and went into the run-off – Jesus, I was expecting to find a supermarket! The amazing thing was, though, that I got back on – and I didn’t lose a place…” That can’t be right.
No one has done more to advance the cause of safety in motor racing than Jackie Stewart, and it may be said that every Grand Prix driver of the past 40 years is in his debt, but even JYS finds it absurd that a driver can make a mistake, go off the road, and not suffer for it – not in the sense of hurting himself, but in terms of losing time and positions.
In an attempt to put that right, we now have rules – which appear to vary from circuit to circuit, even from day to day – about appropriate punishments for ‘going over the white line’. I was appalled when Romain Grosjean’s outside pass of Felipe Massa in Hungary – one of the most electrifying moments of the season – resulted in a drive-through penalty because all four wheels of the Lotus had momentarily, fractionally, gone over the white line at the exit of the turn. Amazing to think what such as Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher got away with over the years.
Thankfully the stewards in Abu Dhabi were smart enough not to penalise Alonso for his off-track pass of Jean-Eric Vergne, accepting that if Fernando had not gone over the white line, it would have been a ’plane crash.
Recalling his days as a Grand Prix driver, Tony Brooks laconically remarks that, “Brick walls and trees and ditches instil a discipline, believe me…”
Brooks’s argument is unimpeachable, but they are also right who point out that racing had to change, that safety had to become a priority: on one level it goes without saying that no one with a discernible IQ wants to see people get hurt or killed; on another, public sensibilities have changed out of sight, and were fatalities still even an infrequent occurrence, it is unlikely that in this day and age the sport could long survive.
Unsatisfactory as it is, therefore, probably we are stuck with ‘white line syndrome’, with passing manoeuvres being endlessly scrutinised and penalties handed out, but in Abu Dhabi Johnny Herbert was moved – bravely, I thought – to say that, “It’s got too safe…”
Let’s say it again: no one wants to see injury or death on the racetrack – but at the same time let no one try to tell me that the overwhelming focus on safety hasn’t come at some cost to what Grand Prix racing was originally supposed to be. To borrow Mario Andretti’s favourite maxim: everything has its price.