Matters of moment, September 2012

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Forty years ago, Emerson Fittipaldi would never have admitted he was spooked. Today, he freely admits that three times he nearly quit the sport he loved because of the dangers that claimed the lives of so many around him. His interview with Rob Widdows, conducted at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, is frank and revealing in a way it could never have been had they sat down together in the tumult of that summer of 1972, as Emmo blitzed the Grand Prix tracks of Europe in Chapman’s unforgettable ‘John Player Special’ Lotus.

Fittipaldi was then on his way to becoming Formula 1’s youngest-ever World Champion. He was on top of the world. Even our own Denis Jenkinson, never one to be easily impressed, was daring to compare him to Jim Clark (see page 55). These were hairy days in a sport for hairy men who couldn’t admit to fear – for fear of showing weakness, or worse, being accused of cowardice. Just ask Jackie Stewart.

Scared? Don’t be soft. Not in the early ’70s. We see it often in these more enlightened times, that drivers who were lucky enough to survive those lethal years can now admit what they really went through. Jacky Ickx is now a different man because of the perspective he has gained on his youth, while Brian Redman’s account of weeping and praying in fear the night before racing at the fearsome old Spa gives us the shivers, no matter how many times we hear it. He’d never have dreamed of admitting it publicly at the time.

The fatalistic acceptance that death could be around the next corner has been diminished in this modern era, thanks to the huge advances in safety. That’s why it’s such a shock when a driver, or co-driver in the case of rallying’s Gareth Roberts (see page 15), is killed today.

But there’s one notable exception where the old attitudes still exist. Isle of Man TT riders simply accept the brutal nature of their sport, just as they’ve always done, to a point incomprehensible to the short-circuit stars of MotoGP. They’re a breed apart. If you’ve listened to the latest Motor Sport podcast from Goodwood, you’ll know we were lucky enough to meet a cheerful bloke from Morecambe who just happens to have 19 TT wins to his name.

John McGuinness describes himself succinctly: “no brains and big balls. And they’re big balls, by the way.” But there’s much more than bravado in what he says. He’s much more interesting than that, and the same goes for others of his ilk.

From the title That Near-Death Thing you’ll understand that Rick Broadbent’s new book on modern TT heroes is a true study of this attitude of fatalistic acceptance. It’s highly recommended. McGuinness, the Dunlop brothers, Conor Cummins, Guy Martin: they’re men Fittipaldi, Ickx, Redman and Stewart – who paid the TT a visit this year – would recognise only too well. Next year the shackles come off,” Pat Symonds tells Simon Taylor in this month’s must-read ‘Lunch with’ interview. The former Toleman, Benetton and Renault engineer, designer and technical director is coming to the end of his Formula 1 ban imposed for his part in contriving Nelson Piquet Jr to crash out of the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to the beneit of team-mate Fernando Alonso.

He’s currently enjoying an underdog role as a consultant for lowly Marussia, strictly working away from the races as his ban dictates. But he admits he’s talking to teams for a full-blown return in 2013, and while Marussia would be delighted to keep a hold of him, this brilliant engineer would be a coup signing for any team further up the grid. It would take a lot for him to move abroad, so we’re talking Williams, Force India, even his old team that used to be called Renault and is now Lotus – although perhaps there’s too much water under that particular bridge. Then consider Mercedes: old foes Symonds and Ross Brawn joining forces?

Now that would be a prospect. And what about McLaren? It’s hardly a team ‘optimising its potential’, as Martin Whitmarsh’s predecessor might have put it. Then there’s Caterham, now of Oxfordshire (keep up), following its move to the old Arrows base in Leaield. There’s a team that has stated its intentions to actively recruit in the coming months.

But should Symonds be allowed back? Of course he should. In our interview, Symonds (right) talks openly about his “serious error of judgement in the heat of competition”. He gives some context, and disturbingly states : “there are instances in F1 when things as bad, or worse, have gone unpunished”. But he doesn’t make excuses. Pat was wrong, he cheated and he doesn’t hide from that. But now he’s (nearly) served his time, he should be allowed to move on – and wherever Pat goes, he’ll be fired up to put this blot on a great career behind him once and for all.

The day after the British Grand Prix, we posted a question on our website: what were your experiences of Silverstone this year? The response was mixed, from those who
had a great time on race day and believed Silverstone did all it could in very difficult circumstances, to those who have vowed never to set foot at the British GP again. Everyone had their own story.

All I can do is repeat what I wrote 12 months ago. From the paying spectator’s point of view, Silverstone leaves a great deal to be desired. The circuit’s facilities are not up to the world-class standards they should be. But in the management’s defence, they have been forced to concentrate on the things that matter to Bernie Ecclestone, not the fans, to ensure Britain keeps its Grand Prix. That’s why we’ve ended up with what Nigel Roebuck’s new ‘friend’ calls the Taj Mahal (see Relections, Matters of Moment page 24)… As usual, everything comes back to Bernie. Priorities in F1 are not where they should be. Then again, no news there.

Like the hard-working team at Goodwood, our attention switches from the Festival of Speed to the highlight of the historic racing season, the Revival meeting in September. In the next issue, we’ll be previewing what they have in store this year, including the 50th anniversary celebrations for the AC Cobra and what we’re all really looking forward to – the pre-war Silver Arrows demo ‘race’. For those of us not quite old enough to remember 1939, the last time that the giants of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union went head to head, it promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But to get fully into the Goodwood spirit, we’d like your help. ‘You Were There’ remains one of our most popular features, giving you the chance to see your own photographs in print. In the next issue (dated October), we’re opening up space for a Goodwood readers’ special, and we’ll also be running a special gallery online, too. So do you have long forgotten snaps at the bottom of a drawer of the Sussex circuit in its heyday? Are there hidden gems that you’d like to share with the world? If so, please send them to us (you’ll find the address on page 42). Ideally, digital scans sent by email or on a disc work best. But whatever the format, here’s your chance to contribute to our next issue. It’d be great to have you aboard.

I’d also like to invite you to participate in our latest online poll. The response to last month’s favourite British champions vote exceeded expectations (see page 16), so now we’d like to ask you another question: who do you reckon will win the 2012 F1 World Championship?

Log on to www.motorsportmagazine.com and tell us what you think.

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