Matters of moment, June 2012

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On the Friday ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix a collective groan rose from the Motor Sport office: Jean Todt had confirmed that the Bahrain Grand Prix was on. Wrong decision, we thought, and most of you seemed to agree.

Beyond altruistic sentiments, it also gave us a practical problem. I write as we close for press, after the Chinese GP – but before Bahrain.

Oh, the frustrations of deadlines on a monthly magazine. So before I go any further, I must invite you to log on to our website to read Nigel Roebuck’s Reflections on the events in Bahrain. Ahead of the race, we can only hold our breath…

What I can state here is why Motor Sport objects to the Bahrain GP and how this episode has been handled. In the week ahead of the Shanghai race, the world’s media turned its attention on the storm F1 was diving into, and we listened as motor sport’s leaders and British MPs stated that sport and politics don’t mix, and never should. Nonsense.

Ideally, that should be the case, but in modern F1 it’s impossible to separate the two. Governments in the Far and Middle East finance the creation of race circuits and pay Bernie Ecclestone millions for F1 to visit, as a showcase for their economic strength.

How much more political can you get? The troubled Kingdom of Bahrain was determined to use F1 to prove to the world it’s business as usual in the religiously divided state. Since the irst GP at Sakhir in 2004, the country has brought welcome investment into the sport and is considered a ‘friend’ to F1. But such factors shouldn’t have influenced the decision to race. By pressing on regardless, in the face of so many objectors, Todt and Ecclestone have, if anything, politicised F1 more than ever before.

Whatever the events in Bahrain, the agenda has been set. F1 chases the money, from China to India, and in the future to ‘new markets’ such as Russia, and the consequence is clear: Grand Prix racing cannot exist in a vacuum.

You’d have to be deluded to think otherwise. In this issue, Nigel relects on the longawaited breakthrough of Nico Rosberg, following that terriic performance in Shanghai. It’s always good to witness a new Grand Prix winner make the grade.

I first met Keke’s boy in the Zolder paddock when he was a precocious teenager racing for his old man’s Formula BMW team. He’d go on to win the title in his rookie season and he was clearly talented. But what struck me most about him was the confidence, the ease in which he carried himself. Hardly your average awkward, painfully self-aware teen.

He’d clearly enjoyed a privileged upbringing and I remember thinking his ascent to Formula 1, which looked inevitable, would be far less arduous than his father’s. So it would prove.

But still, Rosberg Jr earned his place on merit, simply because he was good enough, and since the promise of his debut, with Williams in 2006, he’s been forced to toil in largely uncompetitive cars. Consider too that racing drivers compete to win, and that until Shanghai Nico hadn’t stood on the top step of a podium since his inal GP2 race way back in 2005. Seven years. That’s an awful long time for a racing driver to wait. No one can say he’s had it easy since his graduation to F1.

Credit too must go to Mercedes-Benz. Honda, Toyota, Renault, BMW – they all quit F1 as times got tough, but the three-pointed star has been a constant presence in F1 for nearly 20 years now. A breakthrough victory as a standalone works team is some reward for that commitment. Mercedes plays a huge role in F1, not least because it appears to be a single dissenting voice to the terms of the new Concorde Agreement. It’s an F1 powerhouse, and now it has a quick car to relect that.

As for its ‘Double DRS’ wing that has divided opinion in the paddock (see p15), well, that’s exactly what great F1 teams should do.

Clever stuff. It’s helped give the team an edge, although exactly how much remains to be seen. Now it has been declared legal once and for all, its rivals must react and how well they do so is likely to be a factor in the outcome of the 2012 World Championship. F1 is so much more than a battle between drivers – which is just as it should be.

Like the best racing teams, here at Motor Sport we’re never afraid to try something different and this month we’ve experimented with a novel approach to our front page. ‘Art’ has graced the cover before, of course. Remember Gordon Murray’s sketch showing his prediction of the F1 car of the future back in 2000? Then there was the portrait of new Lotus recruit Dave Walker that was used in January 1972, commissioned by proprietor Wesley J Tee as the Australian’s prize for winning the Motor Sport-backed F3 Championship.

Bizarre, even by this magazine’s often puzzling standards. This month, to illustrate the duel between Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill for the 1962 F1 World Championship – half a century ago – we commissioned Guy Allen to come up with something special. As Ron Howard told Ed Foster on the set of his Rush movie (p122), a degree of creative licence is sometimes unavoidable, but we think Guy has captured the spirit of that pivotal F1 season 50 years ago.

To mark our departure from the norm this month, we’re giving away a single and unique print of the artwork signed by the artist. Log on to the website (www.motorsportmagazine.
com) to enter the competition, where you’ll also ind details of how to win a trip to Le Mans Classic (as mentioned on p17). And there’s more on offer. The Cholmondeley Pageant of Power has established itself as a picturesque and action-packed highlight of the motoring summer season. Motor Sport is delighted to be supporting this year’s event, which takes place in the grounds of Cholmondeley Castle on June 15-17. If you’re planning a visit, do take advantage of our special ticket offer for Motor Sport readers. Tickets can be purchased at www.cpop.co.uk and there are two codes you must enter to make a saving: MOTPT for single-day tickets (£6 discount) and MOT3DT for three-day passes including the ireworks concert (£13 discount).

Next month we’ll be looking ahead to another season highlight, the incomparable Goodwood Festival of Speed. Following the news that reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel will attend for the first time, we can reveal that Alain Prost will also be making his Goodwood debut (see p18).

Prost is a major coup for the Earl of March, who has been trying to entice the four-time champion to the festival for years. Ever polite, Alain would smile in response, but never
commit himself – until now!

The cult of Ayrton Senna has tended to overshadow how Prost is remembered by too many people. But from 1982 to ’88 the Frenchman with the crooked nose and the big mop of curly hair was head and shoulders above his rivals, in all-round terms – which is exactly why Senna focused on him so intensely as the man he had to beat. Their three-year duel between ’88 and ’90 came to deine the careers of both men, for better and for worse. It was 2-1 to Senna in terms of World Championships in those years, but in reality there was little between them week in, week out.

Perhaps ‘the Professor’ didn’t capture the imagination in the way mercurial Senna did. And perhaps he’s less popular because he survived… Whatever, Goodwood’s crowds should give Prost a hero’s welcome this summer. Who knows? If he sees what he’s been missing, perhaps he’ll come back for more.

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