Autographs, Murray Walker and Formula One

It’s a while since I’ve produced an F1 blog post so perhaps it’s about time for one. Over in France while we are on holiday we very rarely watch TV. We spend most of our evenings sitting in the porch watching the sun go down, watching the sky and chit chatting.

Last week I broke the no TV rule and watched the Italian Grand Prix. To be fair, Formula One has been pretty exciting this year with some great races and terrific battles. Max Verstappen who won the championship last year in controversial circumstances looks set to make it championship number 2 this year but if he wins, and it’s still not decided yet, he will have won it fairly and squarely and pretty convincingly too. His big challenger has been Charles LeClerc in the Ferrari and although Charles has been fast, his own team, Scuderia Ferrari, have not performed well in the area of strategy. They have cocked up Charles’ pit stops, stayed out when they should have pitted, pitted when they should have stayed out and gone for the wrong tyres at the wrong time.

At the historic race track of Monza, Charles was ready to chase Max for the win but a safety car came out when Daniel Riccardo conked out in a dangerous section of the circuit. The race marshals had problems shifting Daniel’s McLaren and the race ended under the safety car which stopped Charles’ pursuit of Max in its tracks and of course, ruined the race for the fans.

The big surprise this year is that so far, Lewis Hamilton has done pretty badly. Lewis is an all time record holder with more race wins and more pole positions than any other driver ever and is currently tied with Michael Schumacher for the most world championships ever (seven). However, Lewis’s team Mercedes have dropped the ball badly and after years of winning time after time they have produced a car which is not the class of the field.

Why have Mercedes failed in 2022? My personal feeling is that they should never have dubbed this year’s car the W13. Yes, there it is, I’ve said it. I know that’s going to be controversial but no one is ever going to win any kind of championship with a car numbered 13. Just go back some years to the Apollo space programme. All went pretty smoothly, Apollo 8 circled the moon, Apollo 9 tested the lunar module, Apollo 10 was a dress rehearsal for the landing and Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Apollo 12 made another successful moon landing but Apollo 13, well that was where everything went wrong and the crew were lucky to get back to earth alive. NASA should never have named that space craft Apollo 13 and gone straight to Apollo 14.

The same thing happened this year with Mercedes, those guys should also have gone straight to W14 and missed out W13 entirely or perhaps even numbered the car W12B. If they had, I think Lewis might well have won a few races this year.

During the summer break there has been quite a bit of controversy to keep us armchair F1 fans happy. Sebastian Vettel decided to jack everything in and announced his retirement. That caused Fernando Alonso to announce he would be quitting Alpine for Vettel’s vacant seat at Aston Martin for next year. Alpine then announced Oscar Piastri as their new driver. Oscar the current F2 champion announced that wouldn’t be the case. What? A rookie declining an F1 drive? It turned out that Daniel Riccardo was getting the bullet from McLaren and they had engaged Piastri only Daniel hadn’t been informed. The result, after a meeting of the F1 contracts recognition board is that Oscar is in at McLaren but Daniel is on his way out. OK, that’s how the cookie crumbles in modern F1.

Back in the 1970’s Jackie Stewart drove for Ken Tyrell with a handshake agreement. How times change.

Things have changed in F1 in many ways. A few years ago one of my friends came to me saying he had something he knew I would want. What is it? I asked. It turned out that his daughter who has emigrated to Australia had gone to the Australian Grand Prix. She had a paddock pass (very expensive) and had got all the current drivers to sign her programme. What was I offering for it?

Of course I love F1 and I am a bit of a collector. Over the years I’ve picked up various programmes, F1 models, memorabilia and autographs. We threw a few figures back and forth and then I asked to see the merchandise. My friend obliged and produced the programme. What a disappointment! The programme was covered in what looked like a series of scribbles and squiggles, all of which were completely illegible but which were apparently the signatures of the current crop of F1 drivers. Sorry, no sale I said to my disappointed friend who was forced to flog the goods on eBay.

Here’s one of the autographs in my collection. Not the greatest driver of all time but Graham Hill is probably the most outstanding personality of Formula One racing, ever. Not only that, nice signature too Graham.

Graham Hill

On holiday I always grab a few books to take away with me. Reading is one of the great pleasures in life, at least I have always thought so. One book I picked up was the autobiography of Murray Walker. Murray was for many years the voice of F1. Clive James once described him as talking in his quieter moments like someone who has his trousers on fire. Murray always added his supreme enthusiasm and excitement into his broadcasts. He made mistakes, he mixed up drivers and cars but he always, always kept his viewers entertained. He belongs to that golden era of British TV Sporting commentators like Harry Carpenter (boxing) Brian Moore (football) David Coleman (football) Peter O’Sullivan (horse racing) and many others who are just a faded memory now.

Murray’s book ‘Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken’ was, according to the blurb on the back cover, the number 1 best seller. I was looking forward to reading it but sadly it was all a little boring. Many celebrity autobiographies start off well and are very interesting but when the author reaches the point of fame and fortune, they all seem to go down the same path and become lists and lists of films or shows or appearances or meeting other famous people and just become rather boring. Murray doesn’t waste much time, his book starts out with some boring bits and then goes straight into more boring bits.

To be fair, some of the book was interesting, for instance when he talked about working for the BBC when they commenced their regular Grand Prix highlights programme in 1979 and working with James Hunt, his co commentator for many years. Otherwise though, it was a book I found myself mostly skimming through.

Murray was someone who accepted he made many mistakes but even so, did a fabulous job over the years. I remember once watching the start of the Le Mans 24 hour race on BBC TV’s sports show Grandstand. Murray commented for the first hour or so and then the coverage went back to the studio. It was obvious to me that Murray was in France as he was so well informed, he knew what was going on and so on. Back in the studio in the UK the announcer explained how the BBC were clearly not going to be with the race for the full 24 hours and then turned to Murray who was sitting next to him. His commentary had not been from France but from the TV studio in the UK!

Murray did an amazing job but sorry, his book wasn’t the great read it should have been.

This weekend we will have left our rented French house behind with all its creature comforts and will be slowly meandering our way home in our motorhome, visiting family and friends en route. Happily, YouTube will be showing short highlights of this weekend’s race. Hope we’ll be in a spot where the Wi-Fi signal is good!


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