Monaco, TV Ads and the Problem with VHS Tapes

The F1 season starts later this month in Bahrain, in fact the race teams are already gathering there for the pre season testing, getting ready to shake down the new cars and sort out any teething issues before the actual racing. Of course, I’m assuming that despite Covid 19 we will have something of a normal F1 season once again. One of my favourite events, the Monaco Grand Prix traditionally takes place in May and even though the hi tech F1 cars outgrew this road circuit many years ago, they still come here and race fans can hobnob with the rich and famous and look enviously at the harbour when it will be choc-a-block with millionaires’ yachts.

The other day I was once again going through my old VHS tapes, selecting ones to keep, ones to copy to DVD and ones to throw out. One tape was marked Monaco 2002 qually and I was tempted to dispose of it straight away but I put it to one side and then later when the TV schedules declined to offer up anything interesting I thought why not give it a watch?

I have to say I couldn’t quite remember off the top of my head who was winning and who was losing in 2002 or even who was driving for who.

The video started off talking about what was portrayed as a controversial event in the previous race in Austria. Michael Schümacher and Rubens Barrichello were both driving for Ferrari at the Austrian Grand Prix. Rubens, the popular Brazilian was fastest in qually, fastest in the warm up and led the race. At the very last corner he came out ahead of Michael but then lifted off for a moment and it was Schümacher who took the chequered flag. Schümacher and Rubens came to the podium and Michael was not popular, facing a barrage of booing from the crowd. Michael, clearly embarrassed, pushed Rubens on to the top spot but that would not change the result; Rubens had handed the race win to Michael.

I started to fast forward through the TV ads but then saw one that always used to make me laugh. Here it is:

Back to Monaco and the TV coverage back then had passed to ITV and Jim Rosenthal was the TV anchor. He quizzed pundit Tony Jardine and guest and FIA chief Max Mosley about the Austrian Grand Prix. They weren’t happy at all that Rubens had handed the win to Schümacher. Are they bringing the sport into disrepute asked Jim. Max and Tony seemed to think so. The ITV web site was apparently flooded with complaints. Some drivers were interviewed and one I thought was interesting was the comment by Jacques Villeneuve. He said that we all knew that Ruben’s contract said he was number 2 and had to give way to the number 1 driver who was Schümacher. We all knew also that in Schümacher’s contract it said that the number 2 driver had to give way to him so why should we be surprised at what had happened in the race? Schümacher said Villeneuve should act like a man, accept what has happened, stand up on the number 1 spot and accept the boos.

Funny thing is that nowadays, Villeneuve is always in the F1 websites saying something controversial so perhaps I’d forgotten he was a straight talker even back then. Yes, that whole episode was a big scandal back in 2002 although I really don’t know why. Motor racing is a team sport and Ferrari has always been known to give team orders so why was everyone getting upset? Even Stirling Moss, who drove in an era when team orders were pretty much de rigueur felt compelled to say he had lost respect for Michael Schümacher. The thing is, as the two had led the race and Michael of course knew that Rubens would move over, then the two were hardly racing were they, as Ferrari Team Boss Ross Brawn pointed out. If there had been no team orders then Rubens would have had Michael up his exhaust pipes pushing him until he found a way past. To me the whole thing was a fuss over nothing but as I remember, the whole thing rumbled on and on for quite a while.

Anyway, I soon fast forwarded to the action, the actual qualifying which was I have to say, pretty exciting. There was a time when, as an ardent F1 fanatic, I knew race results and team personnel off by heart. Who won at Monaco in 1970? Jochen Rindt of course. 1971? Jackie Stewart. 72? Jean Pierre Beltoise in the rain. What about 1977? Was it Lauda? No, Jody Scheckter. 86? Prost? Yes, Alain Prost. 2002? 2002, there’s a question.

Time to fast forward again but then another advert caught my eye. I haven’t seen it for years but I’ve always found it rather funny. It starred the northern comedian, Peter Kaye.

Getting back to the qually; as I said before, it was all pretty exciting, especially as I couldn’t remember who was driving for whom, never mind who came out on top. Schümacher soon set the top time then David Coulthard driving for McLaren went fastest. Hakkinen his team mate, who was as you may remember, a double world champion, wasn’t doing so well but then Juan Pablo Montoya, one of my favourite drivers claimed the top spot. The cars began to get faster as the track ‘rubbered in’ and got faster. Coulthard went fastest again, in fact there were ten changes of pole sitter until Juan Pablo the Columbian driver finally claimed the top spot. I’ve always liked Juan Pablo. He was a man who told it like it was, he didn’t go in for PR led team speak and I was looking forward to seeing his post qually interview but then something happened, something that always used to happen back in the VHS age.

The other day I was idly watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. It was the one where Ray and Debra his wife are watching their wedding video and suddenly the screen dissolves and on comes a football match. Debra is furious because Ray has taped over the wedding. Yep, those sort of things happened back then and on my video tape something similar occurred. The race video vanished into a hail of snow only to be replaced by a James Bond documentary. I was furious for a moment but then I got interested in the documentary. It focussed on Miriam D’Abo who starred in the 007 film The Living Daylights and she interviewed various ladies who had the dubious honour of being a ‘Bond Girl.’ There were plenty of clips from the Bond films, interviews and bits and pieces of behind the scenes stuff, in fact it was all pretty interesting for a Bond fan like me.

Pity about the Grand Prix but what the heck, pause to get a bottle of lager and a few nibbles and who cares? Wonder who did win the 2002 Monaco Grand Prix though?

(If you’re interested David Coulthard won with Schümacher coming home second!)


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Ayrton Senna: Touching the Glass

As the 2020 Formula One season comes to a close, many people must speculate about those who race these amazing F1 cars at such incredible speeds. Measuring high speed lap times against car control and the desire to go ever faster is the juggling act performed by the Grand Prix drivers every time they step into their hi-tech carbon fibre cockpits. The consequences of a mistake can range from an embarrassing spin in the gravel trap to a cruel death. Romain Grosjean crashed in the recent Bahrain Grand Prix. His car split into two and his cockpit, jammed in the crash barrier turned into a deadly fireball. Happily, he escaped with only minor burns.

This year, 2020, marked the twenty sixth anniversary of the death of Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time.  Aryton was killed on the 1st of May 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Anyone who knows anything about motor sport can tell you that. The date lingers in the back of the collective mind of all racing fans, along with other tragedies of the sport, like the deaths of Gilles Villeneuve and Jim Clark to name but two. Clark’s death is unexplained to this day. His Formula Two Lotus left the track at an easy, straight section of road. The facts of Villeneuve’s accident are well known – he crashed into a slow-moving car – but his death is perhaps only really explained under close analysis.

Villeneuve was on a slowing down lap, on his way back to the pits after a handful of fast qualifying laps but still, he kept the hammer down, his right foot pressed down to the floor when there was no real need for absolute speed. So why? Why was he going so fast?

Grosjean escapes from his burning car

One answer is simply that that was the way he drove; fast. Foot down to the floor. Full stop. Another was that he was still estranged from team mate Didier Pironi, who he thought had unfairly beaten him in the previous Grand Prix at San Marino in Italy. The two had diced together for the length of the race, team leader Villeneuve thought they were putting on a show, Pironi thought they were racing. When Pironi took the chequered flag it was an act of betrayal, or so Villeneuve thought and when they arrived at Zolder for what would be Villeneuve’s last Grand Prix, Villeneuve was still seething. And so, perhaps that state of passion was a factor on his last lap. Jochen Mass was slowing down and saw Villeneuve approaching at high speed. He moved over to the right to let Villeneuve through on the racing line but at the same moment Villeneuve also moved to the right to overtake and the two collided sending Villeneuve’s Ferrari into the air.

For Ayrton Senna in 1994 that intense rivalry with a fellow driver seemed to be a thing of the past. Together, Senna, Alain Prost, and Nigel Mansell dominated most of the eighties and early nineties in Formula One racing. Mansell had left the stage for Indycar racing in the United States and Prost had retired, leaving Senna to take his vacant seat at Williams, or perhaps he retired because Senna had been offered a seat at Williams – it depends on which story you believe. Certainly, after the intense animosity that developed between the two at McLaren you can hardly blame Prost for not wanting to work in that same situation again.

So now, the Young Pretender had become the Elder Statesman of Grand Prix motor racing and his two closest competitors had gone. Perhaps he even hoped that he could relax, let up the pace a little bit, just as Prost had thought in 1988 before Senna began to push him harder. But a new phase had begun for Aryton Senna, a new Young Pretender had appeared to challenge him in the shape of Michael Schumacher. Schumacher had won the first two Grands Prix of the year and Senna came to Imola without a single point. “For us the championship starts here” he told the TV cameras, “fourteen races instead of sixteen.” Further pressure mounted on Senna when fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was injured in a crash and then Roland Ratzenberger was killed, the first fatality at a Grand Prix meeting since that of Riccardo Paletti 12 years before.

Many sources have said that after these twin disasters Ayrton did not want to race in the Grand Prix. That is something hard to believe, a man as focussed as Senna, not wanting to race. Could it be that he was finally becoming more like his once deadly rival Alain Prost? Prost had always put his own life before winning motor races and as a consequence had driven a dismal race at the rain soaked 1988 British Grand Prix and completed only a token lap at the similarly affected 1990 Australian Grand Prix. Events may have pushed Ayrton’s thinking from the neutrality and detachment of the past towards a greater concern, a concern beyond the continual winning of races.

Whatever his inner feelings he started the San Marino Grand Prix in his usual fashion, leading into the first corner from pole position. Behind him though, JJ Lehto stalled his Benneton and was hit from behind by Pedro Lamy. Lesser events had stopped races in the past but on this occasion the organisers sent out the safety car and the grid cruised round after it in formation for five laps while the crash debris was removed.

At the end of the fifth cruising lap the safety car pulled off, the lights turned to green and Senna, Schumacher and the rest floored their throttles. The Williams was not handling well and it felt nervous through Tamburello, that evocatively named but most dangerous of corners. Still, Senna kept ahead of Schumacher, he kept the hammer down. On lap six the Williams entered deep into Tamburello and Schumacher saw the spray of sparks as the car bottomed out and side stepped slightly. Senna caught and corrected the Williams and throttled onwards for the charge down to Tosa, the next bend. Both Senna and team mate Damon Hill knew their cars were nervous and to a certain extent unsuited to the bumpy surface at Imola. Someone like Alain Prost might have eased off slightly, settled for second or third, collected some points and used the rest of the San Marino Grand Prix as part of a learning curve, collecting mental and electronic data to develop the car into another Williams race winner. For Ayrton Senna, a third defeat by Michael Schumacher was not acceptable. Putting points on the scoreboard held no interest for him either, except for the ten points that in those days came with a win.

The next time round Ayrton entered Tamburello at 192 mph. We know his exact speed from his car’s electronic management system, which records such data. Tremors went through the car as it bottomed out again on the undulating track surface. This time Senna couldn’t catch the Williams, or perhaps something failed on the car. Later on, the steering column was found to be fractured. Did it fail before the crash or was it damaged in the impact? Some have speculated that his tyres were not up to pressure after many laps circling the track at low speed. We will never know. Whatever happened, the car went straight on towards the tyre barrier masking the concrete wall that lay behind. Senna’s last act was to slow the car down to 131 mph, but it was not enough.

I have never met Ayrton Senna. The last time I had seen him, in person, was at the Silverstone tyre tests of 1991 and even then, he was a blur of yellow in the red and white of his McLaren. To understand someone we have never known is not an easy task. Sometimes we can only do so by looking into ourselves and searching for similar experiences.

A long time ago, I must have been eight or nine, my Mother took me to visit my Grandmother. Sat alone in the lounge while the two women gossiped in the kitchen, I became fascinated by my Grandmother’s new fireplace. It was a coal fire and the fire glowed dormantly behind a glass door. A real fire was not new to me, indeed we had one at home, but the glass door seemed to attract me, so much so that I reached forward and held my hand a fraction of an inch from the glass. On an impulse I reached out further and put my hand on the glass. As you can imagine, I recoiled in agony having burnt my hand.

Courtesy Wikipedia creative commons

That moment, in 1994, as I watched my television images in disbelief, I came to think of that small boy, reaching out towards the glass door that enclosed a coal fire almost as one with Ayrton Senna, reaching towards the barriers of absolute speed, touching the zenith of his car control and going ever so slightly over his limits. He had done it before and had come back from the brink. Indeed, it may have even been vital to him to occasionally push and go over his limits just to fix in his own mind where those limits lay. Ayrton was a man who could learn from his mistakes and could go on to better and faster things, but on that tragic day fate stepped in and stopped the process. A suspension arm crushed in the impact, sprang back and hit Ayrton, piercing his most vulnerable point, the visor of his helmet.

Prost and Stewart, two of the all-time greats of motor sport, were men who came closer than anyone to touching the glass without ever being burned. Perhaps that was their secret. Stewart was a man in absolute control of his skills as a racing driver, both on and off the track. After three world championships and twenty-seven Grands Prix wins Stewart was able to say goodbye to it all without ever looking back. What other driver can boast of doing that? Schumacher retired again after a disappointing comeback. The careers of both Nelson Piquet and Gerhard Berger fizzled out inconsistently at Benetton. Mansell called it a day after joining McLaren and then realising that their epic run of success had run out of steam. Alain Prost retired after cantering to his fourth championship. It was clear that in Prost’s final year he was no longer willing to push hard. The motivation of his youth had evaporated with the Grand Prix seasons and with the relentless high-speed sprints of Formula One.

The day had arrived, as it will no doubt one day arrive for Hamilton, Alonso, and Vettel, when he was no longer trying to touch the glass.


This is an edited and updated version of a previous post which as you may have correctly guessed means that this week I was running out of ideas for blogs. Normal service might be resumed next week.


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So Who is the Greatest F1 Driver Ever?

As I write this Lewis Hamilton is the Formula One driver with more wins to his name than any other driver. More F1 wins that is; how he stands on actual wins in any form of racing I don’t know but back in the 1960’s and 70’s, Formula One drivers competed in a number of other non F1 races such as Formula Two or Three, Sports Cars, Saloon Cars, Can Am racing and all sorts. Now the F1 driver has an unprecedented tally of over 20 races in a season; making one every other weekend, they don’t have much time for other racing. Either way 94 F1 wins is a pretty impressive total and everything Hamilton wins now is a new record because the previous winner of the most Grands Prix, Schumacher won only 91. Only 91? Well 91 is pretty good too. The previous record holder before Michael was Alain Prost and his total was 51.

Fangio (Picture courtesy Wikipedia)

Of course, can we really understand a driver’s greatness just from his winning record? F1 racing, like all forms of motorsport is really about winning. In every Grand Prix TV interview, drivers will talk about aiming for a podium, looking to score points but really none of that matters, except the maximum points and the top step of the podium,  you know, the one where the winner stands. Hamilton, at the time of writing this has stood there 94 times which is a pretty hefty claim in the all time greatest driver stakes.

So who are the other contenders for the title Greatest Driver Ever?

Juan Manuel Fangio

Alberto Ascari was Formula One’s first ever World Champion but then came Fangio, winning an incredible 5 championships in the 1950’s, a record that stood for 46 years until overtaken by Schumacher in the 1990’s. Like Hamilton, Fangio drove for Mercedes as well as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Fangio won 24 F1 races out of the 52 he entered, an amazing percentage of 46.15%, the best of any F1 driver.

Jim Clark

Clark equalled Fangio’s record of Grand Prix wins and pushed the record up to 26 before he was killed in an F2 event at Hockenheim in Germany. He won only 2 world championships and drove exclusively for Colin Chapman’s Lotus team.

Jackie StewartJackie Stewart

Stewart won his first F1 race for BRM in the 1960’s and then moved to Ken Tyrell’s team in 1968. Stewart was a close friend of Clark’s and was devastated when his fellow Scot was killed. Stewart took the world championship in 1969, 1971 and 1973. He was due to compete in his 100th Grand Prix when team mate François Cevert was killed in practice for the US Grand Prix. Stewart withdrew from the race. Not only was Stewart fast, he was intelligent as a driver and had a great capacity for not only understanding his car but explaining the issues to his engineers. In 1988, he test drove the Lotus Honda of Nelson Piquet who was being soundly beaten by McLaren despite using the same world beating Honda engine. Stewart correctly divined the issues with the car after only one test drive. He took the record to 27 wins before retiring. Today Stewart is one of the elder statesmen of the sport but from what I have read on social media, he is not universally popular. He mentioned recently that neither Hamilton or Vettel are on his personal list of great drivers.

Ayrton Senna

Senna is a controversial driver in many ways. He was killed in 1994 at Imola during Formula One’s black weekend where he and fellow driver Roland Ratzenberger both lost their lives. Senna was dedicated to his profession, completely focussed on taking pole position in qualifying and from there winning races. He had a great natural talent but his ruthless attitude and determination made him few friends. I remember once being at Silverstone and heard him soundly booed although today he is revered as a legend of the sport. Senna won three championships and took the record for wins and pole positions to new heights.

Alain Prost

Prost was known as the Professor, a nickname which reflected his intelligence and race craft as well as his undeniable talent. He and Senna enjoyed a fierce rivalry which ended with Prost stepping down from the race winning Williams team rather than accept Senna as a team mate and repeat their toxic relationship from their days at McLaren. Prost won 51 races and four world championships.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel won four world championships but later moved to Ferrari where things have not gone quite so well for him. He has been involved in various controversies over the years. He overtook Red Bull team mate Mark Webber despite a radio message asking the drivers to hold their status as first and second and he was once involved in a wheel banging incident with Lewis Hamilton when he perceived Hamilton had unexpectedly brake tested him. He leaves Ferrari at the end of 2020 for the new Aston Martin team.

Michael Schumacher 

Schumacher is another controversial driver. A hard racer, he won his first championship by pushing Damon Hill off the track in Australia. He moved to Ferrari taking with him the key technical staff from his previous team Benetton and went on to retire after collecting 7 world championships and 91 Grand Prix wins.

Lewis Hamilton 

Hamilton’s victory in the recent Turkish Grand Prix confirms his win of the 2020 championship and came with his 94th win. It was actually an epic win where he started down the grid due to a poor qualifying performance but kept things together, gradually moving through the field to the top spot.

Hamilton has of course had the best car just like all the other great drivers. F1 is a team sport and the days when a driver could manhandle a bad car to the front of the pack, just with driver skills alone are long gone. Another advantage Hamilton has had is coming straight into F1 driving for the top team which at the time was McLaren. There were no up and coming years for Lewis, no trying hard to show off his talent in a poor back of the grid team.

McLaren’s days at the top have waned in recent years but perhaps Hamilton saw McLaren’s fall from the top coming, which may explain why he moved to Mercedes. Mercedes have brought on board other great talents in both the managerial and engineering fields and today, Mercedes are the undisputed kings of F1. I think Hamilton has a strong claim to be the number one of all time and it’s sad that some people still refuse to admit as such.

Still, any judgement of drivers across the many decades of the sport is bound to include personal tastes. Many would include Gilles Villeneuve in the hallowed halls of the greatest ever drivers. For me he was a good driver, nothing more. Conversely, I always thought Ronnie Peterson was one of the future greats and would go on to multiple championships; sadly, he never did and was killed in 1978 but I have always thought of him as high on the list of great drivers. Nigel Mansell with his one and only championship in 1992 was another great driver. His was not a natural talent. I’ve always thought that like Graham Hill, he was a man who had to work hard for his victories. It was not for nothing the Italian Tifosi named him ‘Il Leone’, the lion. Spare a thought too for Stirling Moss, the greatest driver never to win a world championship. His record of 16 victories stood for a long time as the best of any British driver.

Hats off to Lewis Hamilton then. 94 wins and more will take some beating.


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Scans, Old Pictures and the German Grand Prix

I do love old pictures. I’m not talking about films or movies, I mean actual pictures, old photographs. It’s amazing what we can do with old photographs these days in the world of digital images. We can scan them, remove blemishes, colourise black and white pictures, in fact we can do almost anything. I remember a recent documentary by director Peter Jackson which involved the restoration of old silent films from the trenches in World War 1. The films were cleaned and digitised, colourised and in some cases a lip reader was employed to try and surmise what those long dead soldiers were saying while the hand held camera was cranked. Computers removed the jerky motions and the result was genuinely amazing. I found myself so interested that I remembered a gadget I had bought a while back, a slide scanner with which I planned to scan and digitise my old colour slides. The results weren’t great and in fact I didn’t have quite as many slides as I thought I had but the results were interesting. I played with the device for a while, scanned a number of slides then moved on to some other project.

I dug the slide scanner out the other day and noticed that it was also possible to scan negatives. There is a holder supplied into which the negative strip fits securely. On the control panel a small box is selected for negative scan rather than colour slide and in a matter of seconds a digital image is produced.

I’ve scanned a lot of my old pictures although I’ve usually scanned them from a printed picture. This way, scanning from the original negative felt really interesting. One problem is that as the image is magnified any stray dust or hairs show up like a sore thumb so it’s important to clean the negatives first. I usually wipe them with a soft cloth which I normally use to clean my lenses then brush them with a small blower brush which sweeps free any dust and blows the offending material away.

I didn’t have any World War 1 material to restore but I did have a huge stack of photographs from the German Grand Prix of 1988. I was quite a keen photographer back then. I had an Olympus OM10 and graduated to an Olympus OM2 SP. SP stood for spot programming which was quite a significant piece of technology for 1988. SLR cameras come with built in light meters but what they do is take an average reading from the light coming into the camera and depending on your set up suggest either a shutter speed or lens aperture or even both. If the subject is evenly lit then that’s no problem but if your subject is in shadow with perhaps bright light from a window coming in stage left then the resulting picture might be too dark. With spot programming a light reading could be taken from the face of the subject so the face, the focal point of the shot would be exposed perfectly.

At the race track I didn’t have time to take spot meter readings, I probably had the camera set to auto or just used a similar setting for most of my shots. Not too fast a shutter as I didn’t want to freeze the cars, I did want a suggestion of speed. In the late 80s and early 90s I spent a lot of time at the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire. Back then I knew every inch of Oulton Park. I knew where I could get close to the cars and where to get the most effective shots. I’d pick a point for my shot and get focussed then follow the cars round until they hit that exact spot and then fire the shutter. I must have hundreds of pictures of racing cars and one of the great things about the digital revolution is that now, instead of lying unseen in an album, my photographs have been seen by thousands of people over on the picture sharing site Flickr.

x

Ayrton Senna in his McLaren Honda. Practice laps for the German Grand Prix

Getting back to Formula 1, I tended to visit Silverstone for the British Grand Prix on Friday practice or Saturday qualifying, soak up the atmosphere and then go home to watch the race on Sunday at home on my TV. Visiting the 1988 German Grand Prix gave me a chance to see everything; practice, qually and visit the stalls selling motorsport memorabilia and, this being Germany, sample a sausage or two. The Grand Prix was held at Hockenheim which has a great stadium section where most of the spectators gather then the track snakes off into the German countryside. Somewhere in that countryside is a sad memorial to Jim Clark, killed here in 1968 at a Formula 2 event.

I journeyed to Hockenheim on a coach trip by a company specialising in sporting events. I had to get a train or coach into London then find the coach company and board ready for the trip to Germany.

The weather was excellent and just thinking about the trip brought back a number of things. 1988 was the first year of the Senna/Prost rivalry. It was also the year Williams lost their Honda engines to McLaren. Honda terminated their contract a year early with Williams because they were not amused that Frank Williams had let an inter team battle with their two drivers, Mansell and Piquet, hand the championship to Alain Prost at McLaren in 1986. Such a pity as if Williams and McLaren had both used Honda engines in 1988 there would have been an epic three-way battle between Senna, Prost and Mansell with Patrese in the second Williams perhaps getting into the action too. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.

Nigel Mansell in the Williams

During the practice session I had a ticket letting me wander about various enclosures. I was near where the cars came in to the stadium section and every time a Ferrari went through this big Italian guy would stand up and ring a big brass bell he was carrying. Ding a ding a ding a ding he rang, every time either Gerhard Berger or Michelle Alboretto came through. Every time I moved to the next spectator enclosure I would get settled, line up my shots then it would come: ding a ding a ding a ding! That Ferrari fan must have been following me about. Well, that’s my excuse for all those jerky shots!

I had spent a lot of money buying myself an Olympus OM2 SP but perhaps I should have spent some extra money on my lenses. I had a great Olympus 50mm lens and a great wide-angle lens too but my zooms and telephoto lenses were a little on the cheap side and I think if I had shelled out a little more money that would have been reflected in my pictures.

My first scans were not that good. I’d cleaned the film as I mentioned but perhaps there had been some dust or hairs in the camera. It was only later after I had spent time cleaning up each individual scan that I realised the dust might be in the scanner!

I’m tempted now to delete them all and rescan them. Oh well, might keep me out of mischief for a while. Meanwhile, here’s a video slideshow using some of the pictures. I’ve added in some snippets of the 1988 TV commentary just to liven things up a little.

Desperately Seeking the Monaco Grand Prix

I started off on this lockdown waking up at about 8 ish and now after 5 or 6 weeks of lockdown I’m waking up at 10, if I’m lucky. Of course I’m staying up much later than usual too, sometimes till 3 in the morning watching TV or listening to music on my new favourite app, Spotify.

One app I’ve found really annoying lately though is my calendar. Earlier in the year I downloaded the schedule for this year’s Formula One season to both my Outlook and Google calendars so that every other weekend my phone warbles away telling me that it’s time for qualifying or practice or for the actual race itself.

Last weekend should have been the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix. It didn’t take place because of course the 2020 season has yet to start, affected like everything else by the Corona Virus pandemic. Pity, because I do love the Monte Carlo event even though it is essentially a race won during qualifying. It is so difficult to overtake around the narrow streets of this small but exclusive principality that make up the race track that pole position is essential.

The first Monaco race I ever watched was the 1970 event. Jack Brabham the 3 times world champion and the only person ever to win a world championship in a car of his own manufacture very nearly won the race. On one of the very last corners he made a mistake and slid into the barriers. Jochen Rindt driving an ancient Lotus 49 slipped past into the lead and won the race. Jochen didn’t even get the chequered flag because the race organisers were looking out for Brabham.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find a video clip on YouTube with a British commentary to show you. There are some available but none that show Jack sliding into the barriers. In those days the UK commentator wasn’t Murray Walker but Raymond Baxter who is perhaps more well known for presenting Tomorrow’s World on the BBC rather than F1. It would be so nice to hear Murray commentating once again but the clip below does show Jack miscalculating that last corner and the French commentator sounds suitably excited.

Later in the season Lotus sorted the game changing Lotus 72 and Rindt went on to amass an unbeatable points tally taking him to a championship he would tragically never live to savour. Rindt was killed in a practice accident at Monza, the home of the Italian Grand Prix.

Getting back to 2020 and even though there has been no actual racing there has been plenty of Formula 1 news. Sebastian Vettel has decided not to renew his contract with Ferrari next year so Ferrari have quickly signed up Carlos Sainz to partner Charles LeClerc. Daniel Ricciardo, once thought of as a contender for the Ferrari seat has announced he is moving to McLaren for 2021 so although not much is happening on the racetrack there has been plenty of F1 news.

Alonso is rumoured to be going to Renault for 2021 so perhaps his F1 career is not over after all. What then will Vettel do? Retire? Take a year off? Lewis Hamilton’s team mate Valtery Bottas is also out of contract at the end of this season so theoretically Mercedes could snap up Vettel and create a super team, Hamilton and Vettel, that could take on all comers. Of course 7 time world champion Hamilton might not be happy about that. He must be anxious to enter the record books as the winner of 8 titles so Vettel might have to sit out the 2021 season.

Alain Prost famously took a year off when he was sacked by Ferrari in 1991. They weren’t too keen about him being uncomplimentary about their car to the press so Ferrari being Ferrari he was quickly shown the door.

During his year off Prost must gave watched enviously as Nigel Mansell romped to the championship in his Williams and so, suitably impressed, Prost decided to begin negotiations to get himself behind the wheel of one of Frank Williams’ cars. Nigel Mansell wasn’t too impressed by this news at all so he promptly walked away and signed up for a season driving Indycars in the USA leaving Prost to head up the Williams team and win another championship.

A year later Frank decided to sign up Ayrton Senna. Then it was Prost’s turn to be unimpressed and he left Williams and retired from racing.

The other night on ITV2 there was a showing of the Senna movie which brought back all the excitement and rivalries of the late 80s F1 world. There was Ayrton looking very clean cut with a new short haircut signing up for McLaren. Ron Dennis the team boss looked happy and Alain Prost was all smiles too. By the end of the season those smiles were wearing a bit thin and a year later it was outright war between the two McLaren drivers.

The film Senna is interesting in a lot of ways. All the footage was taken from the official F1 TV feed and it is clear how Prost lost faith with McLaren and boss Ron Dennis and after two years he was off to Ferrari. When the two drivers came together in Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix and Senna was disqualified, Ron Dennis put in a protest even though the result had given the championship to Prost.

Of course the film takes Senna’s point of view and Prost is portrayed as the bad guy. Even the famous interview between Jackie Stewart and Senna is only shown in part although Ayrton is clearly not amused by Jackie’s questions. A year later after winning his third title Senna would admit to purposely pushing Prost off the track as he was fuming about his pole position spot being moved to the dirty side of the track. That may not have been right but neither was purposely crashing into Alain Prost. Senna went way down in my estimation that day and as much as I admire Senna, I’ve never really subscribed to the legend that he has become in the last few years. I remember being at Silverstone in the early 1990’s and being surprised to hear him soundly booed by the fans as he came past.

Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 in an accident at the Tamburello corner. His car skated off the circuit into the barriers and although the impact was high it was survivable. Both Berger and Piquet had survived bad accidents at that same corner in the preceding years and even now I remember watching Ayrton’s crash in disbelief. I was certain that he would be OK but sadly that wasn’t the case. In a freak twist of fate the suspension arm of the car flipped back, pierced Aryton’s helmet and dealt him a mortal blow.

When Jack Brabham won at Monaco in 1970, future McLaren boss Ron Dennis was Jack’s chief mechanic, which is a nice link to bring us back to the Monaco Grand Prix. The first race at Monaco was in 1929 and was won by the famous British driver who mysteriously used the pseudonym ‘Williams’. The race gradually became more and more important and became a round of the European Championship in 1936. The first post war event was held in 1948 and in 1950 the race became part of the new World Championship and was won by the great Juan Manuel Fangio.

Stirling Moss won in 1956, 1960 and 1961 and another famous winner at Monaco was Graham Hill who won the event 5 times, a record until Senna surpassed it in 1993. Here is Graham tackling the tight corners of the circuit.

Now compare that to Lewis Hamiton in 2019. Much faster but then again, Lewis was driving a semi automatic Mercedes and didn’t have to do all those manual gear changes that Hill had to deal with.

You might think that with limited overtaking the Monaco Grand Prix can be boring. Take a look at this clip from the 1982 event.

In a lot of ways it’s amazing that the Monaco race has continued up to the present. The F1 cars of today are faster than ever before and they hurtle round these tight and twisty public roads at incredible speeds. Somehow the track seems even narrower or is it just that these modern cars are wider, their wings and fins stretching out to take advantage of every available bit of the slipstream.

The F1 teams return because the glamour of Monte Carlo; the yachts, the casinos, and the famous movie stars and celebrities all make this event the perfect opportunity for the sponsors to sell their wares and link their brand to glitz, glamour and hi technology.

I’m looking forward to the 2021 race already.


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F1 Season Review 2019

This last season, 2019 has been a long one (21 events) and it’s also been one in which I’ve seen less F1 than usual. Partly that’s because Channel Four has only been able to show one live Grand Prix in 2019 due to a contractual agreement with Sky TV. That was the British Grand Prix and while it was an okay race it wasn’t a classic by any means.

The big difficulty in 2019 was getting to the broadcast time on Sunday evening without finding out who had won the race beforehand, not an easy task especially as I subscribe to several Formula One newsletters and websites, all of which are eager to be the first to advise me of the race results. On the flip side, when I’ve been on holiday I’m eager for information and I have looked to the BBC radio 5 podcast to find out more about the race but the BBC seem to think that everyone who listens to their podcast has already seen the race! Sorry BBC people but they haven’t!

Lewis Hamilton won the championship, his 6th by the way, bringing him ever closer to Schumacher’s record 7 championships. On one level it’s great that Lewis has achieved all this, it’s great to see someone develop into one of the all time greats of the sport but at the same time, when Lewis wins everything it makes the races a little boring. Now and again I’d like to see someone new win a race, Perez perhaps or Hulkenberg or maybe even one of the teams that usually bring up the rear.

Talking of teams that bring up the rear, one of those teams whose usual position has been to start right at the very back is the Williams team. Williams who some years ago were the bees knees of F1 have suffered a reversal of fortune and their 2019 car has been nothing short of a disaster.

It’s been a disaster too for Robert Kubica who returned to the sport after several years recovering from a dreadful rally accident in which his hand was partly severed and had to be sewn back on. It was great to see him back in F1 but in a car like the Williams which was three seconds off the pace Kubica could hardly show what he was made off. These days the car is everything in F1 and the days when an underpowered car could be manhandled to the front of the grid by an outstanding driver are long gone.

Remember that great win in Monaco by Stirling Moss in 1961 in the underpowered Lotus Climax? Well, you won’t be seeing anything like that in F1 these days.

Moss was one of the great drivers of Formula One. For a while he partnered the great Fangio who won 5 world titles in the 1950’s, a record that stood until Schumacher surpassed it scoring his 6th championship in 2003 before going on to rack up a record 7. Hamilton looks to be in a position to challenge that unless Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to have won races in 2019, get their act together.

Lewis Hamilton was a contender to win the BBC Sports Personality of the year prize in 2019 and considering his incredible success, a very good contender. As it turned out he came second and the eventual winner was, well now I mention it I’m not sure who the winner was except that I’d never heard of the guy but then again cricket has never been my cup of tea.

One great feature of the BBC Sports Personality show in the past were some great interviews with Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart, two world champions with an impressive 5 titles between them. Graham Hill was to me one of the greatest ever personalities of motor racing and his wit and humour still delight even today thanks to the power of YouTube.

Getting back to 2019, Ferrari had something of an oddball season, their number 1 driver, four times World Champion Sebastian Vettel didn’t have such a great year winning only one race, the Singapore Grand Prix. That win was a little controversial as Vettel overtook team mate Leclerc during the pit stops and Leclerc was not happy about that at all. In the Canadian Grand Prix Vettel took the chequered flag only to end up second due to a penalty. Vettel had lost control, spun onto the grass then careered back onto the circuit in front of Hamilton, nearly pushing Hamilton into the wall. Vettel took the 5 second penalty that relegated him to the number 2 spot very badly, complaining to race officials and moving Hamilton’s No 1 board over to his car. Either way, fans voted Vettel driver of the day. Later in the season in Brazil, Vettel employed a tight overtaking manoeuvre to get past team mate Leclerc that took both Ferrari cars out and into the run-off area. Enzo Ferrari must have turned in his grave. Leclerc finished the season with 2 wins and 7 pole positions. Who will be the favoured driver at Ferrari in 2020 I wonder?

One good thing about modern Formula 1 is the official Formula 1 videos. Take a look below for a quick rewind of the season’s best bits.

Verstappen took 3 wins for Red Bull in 2019, the only other driver apart from Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel and Leclerc to win in 2019. The Honda powered Red Bull looked good in some races, not so good in others but expect more from Honda in 2020.

Renault under performed this season which is bad especially when you consider that that apart from Ferrari and Mercedes they are the only other works team in F1. Will they improve in 2020? Does Daniel Ricciardo regret moving over from Red Bull? Maybe, only time will tell.

New drivers Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and Alexander Albon impressed in 2019 but sadly we lost that great competitor Niki Lauda, succumbing finally to lung injuries sustained years ago in his dreadful crash at the Nürburgring. Lauda has been credited as the man who lured Hamilton away from McLaren over to Mercedes where he was non executive chairman.

Nico Hulkenburg lost his seat in the Renault at the end of this year. He has always impressed me but once again it brings us back to the car. In F1 the car is everything and unless a driver can get himself into a top team and a top car, the race wins will not come. George Russell apparently impressed many F1 writers in 2019. To be fair he did outqualify Kubica 100% but I don’t know that I saw any great potential in him. Saying that, many years ago I tipped JJ Lehto and Stefano Modena as future race winners and possible champions. I’ve tended to keep my predictions to myself since then.

Will I be buying a Sky TV subscription? No.

Will I carry on watching the meagre terrestial coverage on Channel Four? Well, can’t imagine me changing the habits of a lifetime, I mean I did follow F1 when there was no or just limited TV coverage. I even remember recording the radio commentary on cassette tapes back in the 1970’s so yes, I will be looking forward to F1 in 2020 and hoping that someone new will come forward to challenge Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari and perhaps hoping the wild hope that Alonso will talk his way into a competitive car and come back to upset the F1 applecart.


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click here to buy or check out the links at the top of the page for more information.

RIP Niki Lauda

It was sad to hear about the passing of Niki Lauda last week. He died after contracting pneumonia after a lung transplant. He was 70 years old.

One of my favourite motor racing books is his autobiography titled To Hell and Back. This is what I wrote in one my reviews.

If someone had said to me at the end of 1973 when Jackie Stewart had just retired that Niki Lauda would be the next great champion of formula one, I would have laughed in his face. In my eyes it was obvious who the next great driver was. It was Ronnie Peterson. Had I tested those theories with a substantial cash wager I would have found myself out of pocket because Lauda won two world championships, retired, then made a comeback and won a third championship. The story of Lauda’s dreadful crash at the Nurburgring has been told many times, it’s even been made into the movie ‘Rush’ directed by Ron Howard. To Hell and Back is Niki’s story in his own words and a great story it is too. On his return to F1 at Monza after his terrible crash, Lauda drove out onto the track and was so scared he began to shake uncontrollably. Nevertheless, he carried on, overcame his fears and became a motorsport legend.

Things weren’t too great at Ferrari when he returned either. They had already replaced him with Carlos Reuteman, the Argentinian driver and Niki was understandably not amused. He returned to racing at the Italian Grand Prix that same year, 1976 and came home fourth, an incredible feat of endurance for a man who only months earlier had been given the last rites. At the championship decider, the Japanese Grand Prix, Lauda withdrew from the race in torrential rain after deciding the conditions were too dangerous to continue. James Hunt came third and therefore became the 1976 World Champion by a single point.

Lauda won the championship again in 1977 then left Ferrari. After two years with Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham outfit he retired but was lured back to F1 again by Ron Dennis the boss of McLaren in 1982. Lauda won the championship for a third time in 1984 but this prompted a salary disagreement between the two men. Lauda claimed that he had only asked for a token £1 salary as a driver and the rest of his reported $3 million dollar salary was for his publicity value. Now he was world champion he reasoned, his salary should be upped considerably, after all his publicity value was the same if not more but now he was a world champion driver. Ron Dennis disagreed and Lauda took his financial issue straight to team sponsors Marlboro. They coughed up the extra cash but Alain Prost then became Ron Dennis’ favoured driver. Lauda retired at the end of 1985.

Lauda took a lot of risks in his early career, financial risks rather than racing ones. He took out a £30,000 bank loan to buy his way into the March team’s Formula 2 car. They were impressed and quickly elevated him to the F1 team. In 1973 he borrowed more money to buy his way into the BRM team. Lauda was good but the team were near to the end of their days, however when team mate Clay Reggazoni moved to Ferrari he told Enzo Ferrari how good Lauda was and Ferrari signed Lauda too and Lauda was happily able to repay his loans. Later in life he was able to start his own airline, Lauda Air which he sold in 1999 but then went on to start another airline.

In 2013 director Ron Howard made the Hunt/Lauda championship battle into the movie Rush.

Niki worked as a consultant to Ferrari and as team principal for the Jaguar F1 team and most recently he was a non executive director for the Mercedes F1 team. Until his lung transplant he was a familiar face in the Mercedes pit along with Toto Wolff, the Mercedes Team Boss and has been credited with luring Lewis Hamilton away from the Mclaren team.

Niki Lauda was one of the legends of Formula One and it was nice to see Niki remembered at Monaco this year by the F1 drivers and teams who all wore red caps in his memory.


Floating in Space is a novel about beer and cigarettes, pubs and pool tables, discotheques, loud music and cheesy chat up lines. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

F1 2019 and the Sky TV Era

The start of a new formula one racing season is always an exciting time. Drivers have settled into their teams, the testing of the new cars is over, the journalists are busy making their predictions and we, the fans and viewers, can finally settle down to watch the first race.

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

Great, but this year is the start of a new era in television. Live F1 has vanished from terrestrial TV and if you want to see the races and their qualifying sessions live you must now cough up £10 per month to subscribe to F1 on Sky and that’s on top of the charge for the basic Sky TV service. Just to rub that fact in, the very first advertisement shown on the first ad break on the qually show on terrestrial TV’s Channel 4 was an ad for Sky TV’s F1 coverage!

Today we are in a sort of elitist TV age where those willing to spend a great deal of money can see all the latest and trendiest TV shows whilst the rest of us have to make do with whatever the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and all the other Freeview channels can offer.

I have heard that Game if Thrones is something pretty exciting, in fact the other day one of my work colleagues told me she was ‘obsessed’ by the show. As far as I know it’s some kind of sci fi fantasy show with a liberal handful of sex thrown in but sadly, as it’s not available on terrestrial TV, I am not one of the lucky few who can watch it.

In a few years’ time we might get a rerun on the BBC but by then all the fuss and excitement will be over and some new show will be in the limelight. I can just imagine perhaps turning to that same work colleague and saying something about a Game of Thrones and her replying, ‘Game of what?’

Ah, the fickle nature of TV. Anyway, back to the F1 season and you might perhaps be thinking if this guy is so keen on F1 why not cough up the dough and subscribe to Sky? Subscribe? Pay for TV that traditionally has been free? My generation can of course remember the days of black and white TV, the days of only two or even one channel. TV to us is like free school milk, the NHS, the number 17 bus. TV is something one takes for granted and as for actually paying for it, surely that’s undemocratic, unBritish and simply unacceptable!

So what is happening then in the world of F1? Are Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton still at the top? Are Ferrari still challenging? Of course they are. The big story for me was the ninth place qualifying spot of Lando Norris in the McLaren. McLaren were once one of the giants of the sport but in the last few years they have slid down towards the back of the grid. Their relationship with Honda fizzled out but when they strapped a Renault engine to the back of their car they still found themselves under performing and that excuse of blaming the Honda engine was no longer acceptable. Either way, it was enough for star driver Fernando Alonso to throw in the towel and say ‘I’m off!’

Hopefully McLaren have started down the road which may one day return them to the winners circle. Another once great team, Williams are not looking good either. Paddy Lowe who contributed so much to the success at Mercedes has not been able to work the same technical magic at Williams and they have found fundamental issues with their new car, so much so that Paddy has had to take a break from the team for ‘personal reasons’.

Only Ferrari seem to have been able to keep their team viable across the changing vista of Formula one. Lotus, Brabham and many others have come and gone. Will Williams and McLaren be able to carry on? Only time will tell. Neither team finished in the points in Australia but at least the performance of McLaren was encouraging. Williams though were not looking good. During the interviews from the paddock the shouts of the fans praising F1 returnee Robert Kubica were quite evident. Kubica’s story is one of those great F1 success stories. Kubica, a rising star and Grand Prix winner had turned to rallying prior to the beginning of the 2011 season but was involved in a terrible crash in which his right arm was partially severed. Surgeons were able to sew the arm back on but the terrible injuries left Robert with reduced mobility in his hand. Now, many years later, Kubica is back on the F1 grid and with a few adjustments to his Williams steering wheel, he is back racing once again. Sadly, he is driving a car not worthy of his talents but with his feedback and the talents of the Williams engineers, maybe things can be turned around. Everyone loves a comeback story.

Valtteri Bottas took Mercedes back to the winners’ circle once again and brought home an extra point for fastest lap. That single point incidentally is something new for 2019, a point for the fastest lap. So, we might find that no longer will drivers decide to rest their engines on the final laps, in fact they will be putting the hammer down in an effort to bag that one extra point for fastest lap.

Getting back to Valtteri, the Finnish driver didn’t have such a good season last year so this win was exactly what he needed. The Ferrari’s took fourth spot for Sebastian Vettel and he didn’t look too happy about it but things could have been a lot worse.

The Red Bull team came home in third place with a great drive from Verstappen in their new Honda powered car. It looks as though Honda might be finally getting things together.

Yes, I may moan about Formula One and pay per view TV but I did manage to get to the 2pm Channel Four broadcast time without finding out who the winner was. I had steered clear of the Internet, no mean feat for cyber geek like me. I didn’t even look at my emails because that could have given rise to the possibility of seeing an e-mail about the event. I subscribe to a number of F1 web sites and their e-mail newsletters always have the winner’s name in the subject so e-mails and Internet were a no-no. TV news? No, kept well away from that too.

Yes, I managed to stay well away from the media and as a result the race was almost as enjoyable as watching it live.

Well, almost but not quite.


Floating in Space is a novel by author Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

7 Classic Covers from Autosport

The formula one season has ended for another year and I wanted to write something a little different about motor racing rather than just a rehash of the 2018 season. I started looking through my F1 books and memorabilia for some inspiration and after a search in the loft I came across my stash of old racing magazines.

My stash consists of one box of old racing magazines, mainly Autosport although not so very long ago it was considerably more than that but after some major hoarding therapy, which basically involved flipping through each issue, deciding what was interesting and what wasn’t and chucking out the latter, I managed to reduce my collection down to just one box.

I love my old Autosport magazines and it’s always fascinating to read about racing and how it was at the time and not looking back from the perspective of the present day. A great column in Autosport back in the eighties and nineties was ‘5th column’, a regular series of essays about the sport written by columnist Nigel Roebuck.

Autosport covers from the late eighties were always one powerful image and a headline. Later on they decided to use multiple images and various levels of text which didn’t have the same impact. Anyway, let’s take a look at some Autosport covers.

This first one isn’t brilliant but the event, the Monaco Grand Prix of 1988 is quite a significant one in the relationship between the two top drivers of the day, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Senna was in the lead and had a big margin over Gerhard Berger who was holding up Alain Prost in the other McLaren. Senna had started to take it easy and concentrate on getting to the end of the race at a slightly reduced pace, saving fuel and stress on the car. Then Prost slipped past Berger and Senna started to speed up. The pit crew radioed him to slow down and that it was too late for Prost catch him but Senna, desperate to beat his team-mate was taking no chances. He upped the pace, going ever faster until he hit the barrier coming into the harbour. Prost went on past and won the race. Senna, overwhelmed with disappointment would not even return to the pits, instead going straight back to his Monaco apartment.

1988 was the year in which Enzo Ferrari passed away. Ferrari started out as a driver for the Alfa Romeo team before starting his own Scuderia Ferrari team in 1929. Ferrari’s team had support from Alfa and in fact raced and prepared Alfa Romeos for various drivers including the famous Tazio Nuvolari. In 1933 Alfa Romeo withdrew their support and Ferrari began to produce his own cars.

The prancing horse was the symbol of an Italian first world war fighter ace, Francesco Baracca, who claimed 34 kills in action. He himself was shot down and killed in 1918 but in 1923 Baracca’s parents visited a motor race won by the young Enzo Ferrari. They were impressed by Ferrari and asked him to use the prancing horse on his cars, thinking it might bring him luck. Ferrari added a yellow background, the colours of his home city of Modena and the symbol has been on Ferrari cars ever since.

The McLaren duo of Senna and Prost won all the F1 races in 1988 but one. The one they didn’t win was that year’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Prost retired from the race and Senna was leading until a coming together with back marker Jean-Louis Schlesser who was deputising in the Williams for the poorly Nigel Mansell who was suffering from a bout of chicken pox. Senna tried to lap Schlesser at one of the chicanes, Schlesser locked his brakes and appeared to be heading towards the gravel trap, however, he managed to regain control, something that Senna wasn’t expecting and when he took the normal line through the chicane the two came into contact and Senna was forced out of the race with broken suspension.

The Tifosi, the Italian race fans, were overjoyed when Gerhard Berger and Michele Alboreto came home first and second for Ferrari. Did the spirit of the recently departed Commendatore influence things? Who knows?

The story of Prost and Senna is probably the story we all remember from the eighties but they didn’t always have things their own way. Nigel Mansell nearly won the championship in 1986 and his rivalry with team-mate Piquet enabled Prost to take the title that year. Honda were not happy and Frank Williams’ refusal to give team orders to his drivers led to Honda taking their engines away from Williams and over to McLaren. Williams did take the championship in 1987 for Nelson Piquet but he left for Lotus for the 1988 season. Mansell wasn’t happy either in 1988 as the Williams team, left in the lurch by Honda, were forced to use engines from privateer John Judd. That was probably a major factor in Nigel switching to Ferrari for the 1989 season. Mansell was the last ever driver to be personally signed by the Commendatore himself, Enzo Ferrari. The cover shown here is from 1989 when Mansell took his Ferrari to victory in Hungary.

Alain Prost was not happy working with Ayrton Senna. Their relationship broke down completely and Prost decided to jump ship from McLaren and join Nigel Mansell at Ferrari. The partnership of Prost and Mansell started off well with Mansell announcing that the only person he could learn from on the grid was Alain Prost. That relationship soon soured when Mansell felt that Prost was getting preferential treatment at Ferrari. His love affair with Ferrari over, Mansell rejoined the Williams team where he went on to win his only world championship in 1992.

Prost was fired from Ferrari towards the end of a winless season in 1992 after he publicly criticised the Ferrari team. He returned to F1 in 1993 but announced his retirement at the end of the season after Williams announced their signing of Ayrton Senna for 1994.

 

In this edition of Autosport from 1989, the magazine chose a picture of Senna looking suitably gloomy as he waited on the FIA, the ruling body of motorsport, to rule on his appeal against his disqualification at the Japanese Grand Prix. Prost had been leading when Senna tried to overtake from a long way back. The two came together and Prost climbed out of his car. Senna however, was pushed away by the marshals and rejoined the race to eventually win. He was disqualified from the race and had to win at the final Grand Prix of the year in Australia to take the championship. The Australian race of 1989 was held in torrential rain and cut short. Prost declined to drive saying the conditions were too dangerous. Senna crashed into the back of Martin Brundle and the championship went to Prost. A year later in 1990, Senna drove Prost off the road to win his second championship. When he won for the third time in 1991, he admitted purposely colliding with Prost but felt he was not at fault because officials had changed pole position to the dirty side of the track. Had they not done so, he reasoned, the crash would not have happened.

1994 was a remarkable season in many ways. The Williams car which had been dominant for so many seasons was not handling well and a great deal of research and development was necessary for the car to be refined into a race winning motor car. Senna arrived at Imola for the San Marino Grand Prix in poor spirits. So far he had not scored a single point in the championship and murmured ruefully to the TV cameras, ‘for us the championship starts here, fourteen races instead of sixteen.’ Ratzenberger was killed in practice and Rubens Barrichello was lucky to escape from a horrifying crash without serious injury, all of which contributed to Senna’s darkening mood.

On lap 6 of the race Senna lost control of his car at Tamburello, one of the most challenging corners on the track. He hit the concrete wall there and part of the front suspension was flipped back towards Senna’s head. The impact pierced his helmet and dealt Senna a mortal blow. He died soon afterwards.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

Coal Fires, Pub Bands and Formula One

The nights are growing shorter and the weather is cooling rapidly. In fact, the U.K. Is heading for a three-week freeze according to the latest weather report and Liz and I have lit our first coal fire since those long departed days of winter.

This has been a long Formula One season. The days when the season fizzled out towards the end of the summer are long gone. Nowadays there are new races and new venues, some in countries that have no native F1 drivers or teams, nor even in some places, any noticeable motor sporting traditions.

This year two four time world champions are battling it out for the honour of becoming only the third ever five times champion. The very first of course was Fangio, someone I heard described as the Godfather of F1 the other day, and Michael Schumacher, who went on to take 7 world titles in total.

Schumacher made a return to F1 in 2001 with the Mercedes team and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, finally retiring again a couple of years later. When Lewis Hamilton decided to leave McLaren in favour of the Silver Arrows I thought that was probably the biggest mistake of his career but luckily, Hamilton ignored my advice, moved to Mercedes and now as I write this, is poised on the verge of championship number 5.

It is perhaps fair to mention here that despite a life long love of the sport, every prediction I have ever made, regarding formula one, has been completely wrong. JJ Lehto, who I predicted would one day be a multiple F1 champion, failed to live up to my hopes and in fact his career nose-dived in a sad and unhappy way after an accident whilst testing the new Benneton. Jean Alesi, another driver who I noted early on was destined to be a world champion won only one grand prix, once again confirming my credentials as a bad, very bad, F1 forecaster.

Sebastian Vettel has an outside chance of challenging for the 2018 title but the odds are really against him. This has been a season of lost opportunities for the German driver and, as was mentioned in the channel 4 US Grand Prix coverage, he is looking increasingly unhappy at Ferrari. Ferrari came out tops in the recent US Grand Prix although it wasn’t Vettel who won the race but teammate  Kimi Raikkonen. Kimi, known as the Iceman because of his rather inexpressive demeanour, scored a popular victory. This is his last season with Ferrari and next year he will return to Sauber, the team in which he made his F1 debut in 2001.

It’s good that Kimi is not leaving the F1 grid, after all, like me he hardly has a career as an F1 pundit to look forward to.

Last Saturday, the qualifying hour for the US Grand Prix was shown live on Channel Four in the UK. I really do love the irregular live coverage we get on terrestrial TV as I have no intention of splashing out, as I have mentioned before on these pages, for Sky TV. Anyway, due to the time difference the coverage started at 8:30 pm in the UK, just about the time Liz and I were due to leave for our local pub. Friends had mentioned to us that a ‘great’ band were playing in the pub so we decided to go and see what they were like, quaff a few beers and generally show support for our local which had just reopened under new management.

We were chatting away with friends who were sitting just by the stage when the band started up. The music wasn’t anything I would call ‘great’ but then again, they were playing at a volume several decibels above the normal volume of a rocket launch from Florida so Liz and moved to an area of the room furthest away from the racket. Did I say racket? Well, noise, cacophony, you get the picture. Not long afterwards our friends joined us, having been blasted away from their table by the volume. Even at the furthermost reaches of the pub, conversation was difficult and I spent a lot of time nodding to people who were telling things I hadn’t even heard. Anyway, the beer was good and our new table was happily near to a TV set showing the qually so I was able to keep my eye on events in Texas. Although I tend to moan about F1 not being as good as the old days, one new aspect of the sport I really do like is the qualifying. The qually hour is now divided into three; qually one where the slowest four cars are dropped. Times are reset and then the top ten cars from qually two go forward to qually one for the top ten shoot out.

On this particular occasion, Hamilton was fastest just ahead of championship rival Sebastian Vettel. Unfortunately, Vettel was demoted to fifth place due to a rule infringement during the practice session, where he failed to slow sufficiently during a red flag period. Importantly for Ferrari though, Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel’s team-mate was therefore elevated to second place.

During a break from the band someone at the table noticed me watching the TV and asked what I saw in motor racing. ‘After all, it’s just cars going round and round.’ ‘Well that’s one way of looking at it’ I replied but isn’t football just a bunch of guys running up and down a field kicking a ball about? There are good races and boring ones, just like any football or cricket match. You either like racing or you don’t I argued and no amount of tinkering with the format will make people watch it if they don’t like the sport. Nothing will never make me tune in to a football match even if they decide to have naked dancing girls at half time.

The band finished their set, mercifully, and the lead vocalist called out ‘Do you want one last number?’

Our table called ‘No’ in unison but clearly deafened by their own acoustics, the band went on to crucify another final song. At least the bar staff and a few deaf regulars were there to listen to them. We were off!

On Sunday evening then, it was rather nice to sit in my favourite armchair after our Sunday dinner, a glass of red to hand, coal fire roaring away in the grate and enjoy the US Grand Prix live from Austin, Texas. It was a fairly exciting event. Kimi stole the lead from Hamilton at the start and using his super soft tyres carved himself a fair old lead. Hamilton and the Mercedes team dropped the ball by coming in for tyres too early, Kimi switched to a harder compound and held the lead to the end. Verstappen had a great drive from 18th to second place and Vettel who had yet another comeback drive after tangling with another car in the opening laps, this time Ricciardo, came home fourth and so keeps the championship alive for this weekend’s race in Mexico. In order to win the championship, Vettel has to win all three remaining races with Hamilton scoring only 4 points. Bit of a tall order really, even for Vettel.

Pity we haven’t got Sky TV though, might be an exciting championship finale . .


Floating in Space, a novel by Steve Higgins and set in Manchester, 1977 is available from Amazon as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.