It wasn’t a bad race this year’s Monaco bash — even though I can’t recall a single for-position overtaking manoeuvre. What was distinctly impressive was how the top seven finishers were pretty much mistake-free. The fantastic on-board footage emphasised just how boggling the world’s most famous circuit is, how its barriers beckon you at every turn. You must be inch perfect — and Montoya, Raikkonen, Schumacher M, Alonso, Trulli, Coulthard and Barrichello were. Incredible.
There can be no doubt that the current breed of F1 driver exists in a very different atmosphere from that of his forebears. Cocooned by the team, his focus is unbroken and unimpeachable. He can’t want to win GPs any more than the 1976 James Hunt did, but there is no denying that he (in fact, all of today’s F1 grid) would beat ‘Master James’ hands down at a staring contest.
There can be no doubt, too, that today’s cars are easier to drive than their predecessors. Automatic gearchanges, both hands on the wheel all the time, just two pedals: stop and go. Extracting the maximum out of them is still the domain of a handful of supermen — but their baseline is indupitably higher, the working environment they provide improved beyond all recognition.
And then there’s downforce. In other people’s million-pound racing cars I’ve tended to skirt around this. But now, for sure, this month I have felt the effect of this unseen force — pressing the car into the track, loadingup its steering, knotting my neck muscles. I was very grateful for it at the time, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. Driver of average talent feeling (relatively) comfortable in 1000bhp car (page 28). That’s not right, is it?
Formula One’s powerbrokers are currently discussing new technical regs, which include a standardised rear wing of ‘Monza downforce and Interlagos drag’. Bearing in mind that wings will never be summarily removed, this suggestion seems immensely sensible. Which is why, I suppose, it is likely to be thrown out.
Come on guys, Monaco wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a patch on the race there 70 years ago, when Nuvolari and Varzi, in Alfa and Bugatti, passed and repassed for 100 laps, before Achille got the nod when Tazio’s car caught fire on the last lap. No downforce, no semi-autos, no carbon brakes — just skill and excitement. It’s time to ask more questions of today’s talent.
Speaking of questions, the opportunity remains for you to put your teasers to Sir Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney and Derek Bell. You’ve sent us some already, but we need more before we can turn up on their doorsteps. You can put me in the ‘hot seat’, too, if you log-on to www.itv-f1.com/goodwood, or e-mail your Goodwood queries to [email protected]