Matters of Moment: November 2018

What does the future hold for motor sport? It is a question that we have attempted to answer in this month’s magazine, with features on esports, essays on an alternative fuel-powered endurance racing championship and eye-popping images of what Formula 1 cars might look like in 2021.

Reading these pieces it is impossible not to marvel at the rate of change that is being predicted. Who would have thought, a mere five years ago, that bone fide Formula 1 outfits would be running their own ‘virtual’ race teams? Surely video games are just that – games – and as, Ernest Hemingway correctly stated, motor racing is a sport.

Or, to take another – as yet unconfirmed – example: who would have thought that it could reasonably be argued that the WEC might potentially turn into a hydrogen-powered series? And yet as we explain, that is the most likely outcome when taking into account the new rules under discussion.

It is a reminder once again that innovation and change are in the DNA of our sport. Uniquely perhaps, motor sport is defined by its appetite for change and determination to push forward. To remain the same – or, worse, to go back – condemns team and driver to the back of the grid. Maintaining the status quo is not an option.

Perhaps this is why the decision of Kimi Räikkönen to go back to Sauber – his first team – caused such consternation among some commentators. Granted this was a human rather than a technical change, but even so you could almost hear the gears grinding as the commentariat struggled to process the fact that someone was going in the wrong direction. In other sports, returning to your first club – Ian Rush to Liverpool perhaps or Stanley Matthews’ return to Stoke City in 1961 – can be seen as a valedictory move. An honourable return to the place where it all began, and a move to be applauded.

Kimi’s decision, by contrast, was greeted with questions about whether he had lost the passion for the sport. In some quarters – notably this office – it was unsentimentally said that he would be better off retiring. He was a “bed-blocker”, said someone, denying a place in a junior team to a younger driver.

It struck me that the raw instinct for progress, for things to move forward trumped any self-indulgent thoughts about returning to the team that once nurtured him. There is no room for sentiment in the fire-and-steel world of Formula 1 and perhaps that is what makes it not only uniquely innovative but also uniquely addictive.

Interestingly there have been other examples of drivers seeing out their career by returning to their first team – though not many. M’learned colleague Simon Arron, who occupies a place not dissimilar to that of Andrew Samson on Test Match Special when it comes to statistical genius, informs me that Heinz-Harald Frentzen can claim to have both started and ended his career with same team (coincidentally, also Sauber) after having been elsewhere in the interim. Pier-Luigi Martini also qualifies, having started and ended with Minardi, but only if you overlook the fact that he failed to qualify a Toleman when substituting for the suspended Ayrton Senna at the 1984 Italian GP. If readers can think of any others – not those such as Jim Clark who spent their full F1 careers with the same team – please let us know.

REMAINING – BRIEFLY – WITH FORMULA 1, as I write Lewis Hamilton has just taken victory in Singapore. It was a race best described euphemistically as one for the connoisseurs, with tyre management strategies trumping racing. Nonetheless, Hamilton still stole the show with a blistering qualifying lap that will go down as one of his very finest. He went around the 5.063km circuit in track record time of 1min 36.015sec – or three seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel’s pole last year. It was epic – in every sense. Toto Wolff called it “stardust” and that is just what it was.

A couple of days before that lap, Hamilton was in New York for the city’s fashion week where he launched his TommyXLewis fashion label with Tommy Hilfiger. The young star arrived at the event with Nicki Minaj, the rapper whose song Motor Sport wasn’t recorded with us in mind and isn’t for readers of a sensitive disposition. Several UK publications noted that Hamilton had been jetting around the world ahead of the Singapore race and questioned whether this would affect his performance.

As one newspaper slyly put it: “While his rivals have been spending time in heat chambers to acclimatise to the conditions or time in the team’s simulator, Hamilton has spent the last 10 days flying 25,000 miles between London, Shanghai, New York and Singapore.”

I must have missed the headlines proclaiming Hamilton a hero for having put together one of the all-time great laps despite his busy international schedule…

FINALLY: MOTOR SPORT is branching out this month with its first official track day and I would warmly recommend that readers who might like to experience it register an interest via our website.

The event will take place at Thruxton, the fastest track in the country, and participants can benefit from some expert tuition from this magazine’s friend Tiff Needell or one of four other professional instructor who will show them how to get the most from their road or track car. There will be refreshments on offer at the venue’s all-new visitor centre, along with the chance to meet and chat with members of the editorial team.

If you can’t make this month, don’t despair – other track days are in the pipeline and we hope to welcome you to one of them over the coming months.

And for those already signed up: see you in Hampshire!