Matters of Moment, July 2012

On the Monday morning after a Grand Prix, it’s become a habit to check out the comments posted by readers under our website race reports. At a glance, it’s a great measure of how the talking points of the day have been assessed, debated and dissected by our knowledgeable – and growing – online community.

Now, clicking through to some forums and comments sections on all manner of websites can be like lifting the lid on a nest of vipers, and if you choose to disturb the mass of seething opinion by sticking your own hand in, be prepared for a nasty bite! The levels of bravery behind a pseudonym and home computer keyboard are breathtaking.

Fortunately our online friends tend to keep things in perspective, and debates are mostly good-natured and respectful. And as they often show a deft turn of phrase, please forgive me as I plunder!

An exchange following the Spanish Grand Prix caught my eye: about Michael Schumacher’s inept launch into the rump of Bruno Senna’s Williams, John Miller was moved to write about the “hilarious comments from the Pot driving into the rear of the Kettle”, prompting Adrian Muldrew to respond: “funniest sporting aphorism I’ve heard since the time Brian Clough thumped a supporter who invaded the pitch, provoking Jimmy Greaves to observe that it was the irst time he’d actually seen the s**t hitting the fan!” Made us chuckle, that one.

Overall, the tone of our readers’ comments was of good cheer for both Williams and Pastor Maldonado, and we speak with one voice on this one. When we published our tribute to the career of Patrick Head in the March issue earlier this year, it’s hardly a stretch to say that, privately, none of us expected to see Williams win another race – ever. Last year had been so awful for this much-loved team, it had fallen so far, that such a recovery seemed inconceivable.

But in that issue, Rob Widdows ended our retrospective by looking ahead to the new season with new chief operations engineer Mark Gillan. Within that interview Gillan explained that the banning of exhaust-blown diffusers was a “signiicant change” and went on to say “now we have certainty in the regulations, and better mapping potential with the Renault engine, and we can still have some blowing – through a much more convoluted path – to get the exhaust gases back to where we want them on the loor of the car. With the Renault package we’ve been able to look again at every aspect of the car, the integration of the engine into the whole drive-train and its mating on to the chassis.”

The wholesale review and new approach has worked, but of course what Gillan couldn’t have known in the depths of last winter was just how critical this new breed of Pirelli tyre would be. Talk about a leveller. Last year, Williams had to start again. Along with Gillan it hired a new technical director, Mike Coughlan, the man whose rehabilitation after his role as a ‘villain’ in the McLaren/Ferrari spy scandal of 2008 is now surely complete. Jason Somerville joined him as head of aerodynamics and Ed Wood continued as chief designer.

Together, they produced the FW34 that has ended the team’s aching eight-year drought – and for that they deserve great credit. So too does Maldonado. Yes, he’s a pay driver, but the backing of the Venezuelan government has secured the team financially and it’s fitting that he should be the one to benefit.

He also happens to be a very good racing driver, better than some of us gave him credit for. You have to be strong to win a GP2 title, but still… he was accident-prone, wasn’t he? Not on Sunday afternoon in Barcelona, he wasn’t.

So can Williams and its 27-year-old lead driver who still wears braces on his teeth really win the world title? On Spanish form, of course. But so much will depend on those Pirellis. What seems likely is that we’ll enjoy some more ‘pinch-me’ moments in what looks set to be the most unpredictable Formula 1 season in years.

Good, solid F1 drivers who would never have had a hope of winning a Grand Prix in previous eras could rack up a hatful, and as for the next race, I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a Monaco GP as much. Is it racing for the purists? Well, in Relections Nigel Roebuck compares it to NASCAR, so there’s your answer to that one. Given the magazine you’re reading, you won’t be surprised to hear we have our reservations about the path F1 has taken. But still, as spring turns to summer, we can’t resist. What happens next is anyone’s guess, and that makes for unmissable sport.

This month, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Group C, an era of sports car racing that will always be close to my heart. Throughout the 1980s, the Brand Hatch 1000Kms was a bright highlight of my season – even when it hissed it down (1983, ‘Del Boy’ and ‘Fitz’ in the J David 956 springs to mind. The mud. It was glorious if you were nine).

By the end of the ’80s, the depth of quality within the World Sportscar Championship, in terms of manufacturers, constructors and drivers, was awesome. I’ll never forget the anticipation before the 1989 Brands race: Jaguar vs Sauber-Mercedes vs Nissan vs Toyota vs Mazda vs the usual multitude of privateer Porsches… It was just too good. And so it would prove when the FIA, with more than a modicum of inluence from that man Bernie, torpedoed the scene by allowing F1 ‘atmo’ engines in. The rules would at least give us the Jaguar XJR-14, the Toyota TS010 and the Peugeot 905 – three wonderful racing cars – but we all knew it was a stupid decision then, and that view hasn’t changed today.

At least now, 20 years later, we’ve inally got a proper world championship back again. On the evidence of the opening European round at Spa (see p24), the new FIA World Endurance Championship is on the right track as a true successor to the spirit of Group C. Give it time. It’s already good – it could be amazing. In closing, allow me to direct you to p44 and details of an online reader survey we are undertaking.

This is your chance to tell us directly what you think about the Green ’Un in 2012: what you like, what you don’t like, what you want more of – and what you’d choose to cut. We’re lucky that Motor Sport’s loyal readers care so much about the magazine that they’re rarely slow to offer their opinions. We listen to every phone call and read every mail and letter. But collectively, surveys are a great chance to make your views count. Magazines that stand still die, and if we are to continue to thrive we need to evolve – but we can’t do it without you. If you can spare the time, I’d be delighted to read your thoughts.

Damien Smith