Matters of Moment, May 2012

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As we mark 30 years since the death of Gilles Villeneuve, the driver who for some of us personifies more than any other what a true racing hero should be, I can’t help wondering what the little man from Quebec would make of the picture on pages 72 and 73 of this issue.

Take a look. Did you read the caption? Three rows of McLaren engineers sitting in a grey room with no windows, monitoring all sorts of data on banks of computer screens during some far-flung Grand Prix. They’re not even at the race itself. They’re back in Woking, at McLaren’s HQ, analysing performance and working out differing simulations of how the race might unfold, vital info that they will feed to their colleagues on the pitwall. Villeneuve would have been nonplussed by such cold science. What’s happened to his sport?

Still, as I watched the twists and turns of the Australian Grand Prix, I couldn’t help but reflect that in spite of the immense intelligence and infrastructure that sits behind two racing cars circulating on a track, the sport of motor racing will often outfox even the most brilliant minds. Those analysts couldn’t avoid Lewis Hamilton finding himself stuck behind Sergio Perez after his first pitstop at Albert Park, could they?

There was good reason, of course. McLaren had called Jenson Button in first because he had priority as the race leader. But having pushed their Pirelli ‘option’ tyres to their limit (and beyond), it left Hamilton scrabbling around that extra lap before his own stop on rubber way past its best. He lost about three seconds — so Perez, on his incredible one-stop strategy, came into play. Lewis took four laps to find his way around the Sauber, and Jenson was gone.

The solution, the risky “double-shuffle”, as Martin Whitmarsh described it, was to bring in both drivers on the same lap for the second stops and trust in the mechanics not to botch a wheel change. It was an impressive team display, but then fate played a hand: Vitaly Petrov abandoned his Caterham on the pit straight and caused a safety car period. And that would lead directly to Sebastian Vettel jumping Lewis for second place.

There was nothing those engineers on the pitwall and back in Woking could do to stop it. Thus, we still have a sport and not merely a technical exercise. And on this evidence, a pretty exciting sport at that.

Gilles would still have shrugged and shaken his head, I suspect. It’s hard to imagine the man of Dijon and Zandvoort ’79 getting too excited about the vagaries of tyre and pitstop strategy. But looking further down the order he would surely have nodded in familiar recognition. For there, valiantly holding on against the odds in fifth place, was a supremely gifted racing driver grappling with a pig of a Ferrari and scoring points the team didn’t deserve.

Yes, the spirit of Gilles Villeneuve lives on in 2012, in the pure racer form of Ferrari’s little Spaniard: Fernando Alonso.

***
There’s a word in the Malian language of Bambara that sums up the spirit of Motor Sport quite perfectly. The word is `Abarka’ and it means: ‘thanks for yesterday, thanks for the present, thanks for tomorrow’. There. Never say we don’t teach you anything in these pages…

The source for this unlikely tribute? A certain six-time Le Mans winner — who’s from Belgium.

As you might recall if you read Simon Taylor’s ‘Lunch with’ interview last year, Jacky Ickx’s wife is Malian and these days he spends much of his time in a country he has grown to love. He also has a soft spot for this magazine, as he told me with such African eloquence when I found myself sitting beside the great man at dinner in Goodwood House recently. Talk about a ‘pinch me’ moment.

I’d previously met Jacky when he joined our Hall of Fame during the magazine’s inaugural awards evening in 2010. Our exclusive club of motor racing legends has swelled to 20 following our latest big night, which took place for the third year running at the Roundhouse on February 16. Four new members were announced: the late Colin McRae, whose father Jimmy joined us to welcome him as the first rally driver in our Hall of Fame; legendary 15-time motorcycling World Champion Giacomo Agostini, who flew in from Italy specially to be with us; the king of both two wheels and four, John Surtees, a man whose inclusion was not before time; and also Adrian Newey, the greatest racing car designer of modern times — and perhaps, arguably, of all time.

It was quite a night, and you can read all about it in our special supplement that comes free with this issue (UK only). If you’re a reader overseas, check out the Hall of Fame section of our website (www.motorsportmagazine.com) for a photo gallery and video of the event.

We have some exciting developments that we’ll be introducing for the 2013 Motor Sport Hall of Fame, when more great names from the past and present will join the club. More on that next month.

***

The Goodwood media day featured 123 cars and motorcycles this year — on a par with the grand total that showed up for the first Festival of Speed itself, way back in 1993. Lord March has created another monster! He’ll be tempted to open it to the public at this rate…

You can find out more about Goodwood’s plans for both the 2012 Festival and Revival on page 18. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to the first big UK historic racing festival of the season, at Donington Park on May 5/6.

Now in only its second year, the Donington Historic Festival is already established as a spring highlight of the racing season. Motor Sport will be there, and if you pay a visit to our stand you can win a ride of the circuit in the course car on either day. Sir Stirling Moss will also be signing autographs at our base, so do come and say hello.

Motor Sport readers can claim a 25 per cent discount on admission, too. Visit vvww.doningtonhistoric.com, click on the ‘advance tickets discount’ button and enter code MSDHF12, or call the ticket hotline on 0844 873 7355 and quote the code, to make the most of this offer. Two days of terrific historic racing, all at a bargain price! Don’t miss it.

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