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.

The British Grand Prix

Sunday was a rather lovely day. I awoke late after a night shift, had a brew and was all ready to sit down and watch the British Grand Prix. Sunday’s Grand Prix was quite a significant one, at least for me because it’s probably the last time I will watch this classic event live on terrestrial TV. Next year the F1 season will be exclusive to Sky TV and, as much as I love F1, having followed the sport since 1970 when I was 14, I will not be purchasing a subscription to Sky.

Still, I’ve lived through these times before, like the late seventies when the BBC declined to show F1 because John Surtees’ team ran cars displaying sponsorship from Durex. That was a bleak period for armchair racing fans until the championship livened up in 1976 and James Hunt battled Niki Lauda for the world championship. Then the BBC relented and decided to show the sport again. Once again it seems I shall have to turn to BBC radio for my fortnightly F1 fix.

Fernando Alonso. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Hamilton was justifiably happy at winning the Grand Prix from pole position but the highlight of the event for me was the moment in qually one when Fernando Alonso’s engineer radioed to him that he was now P1, which is F1 terms means he was the fastest driver out there.

Qually one is of course the first round of a knockout qualifying sequence and Alonso hit the top spot because a rain shower had disrupted qualifying and he decided to take a gamble, head for the pits and change to dry tyres and go out on to the drying track in the dying moments of the session. The gamble worked, Alonso heard P1 in his earphones for the first time in a very long time and the cheer for him at Silverstone was a joy to hear. Yes, despite the firm affection for British hero Hamilton the British fans also respect someone of very great talent and that cheer was richly deserved.

Sadly, in qually two Alonso was knocked out.

I read somewhere once that the great drivers will always gravitate to the top teams but on this occasion McLaren are perhaps no longer a team at the very top. They took a big gamble by allying themselves with Honda, confident that, just like in the eighties, Honda would once again produce a powerful engine but that engine has yet to appear. Instead an engine that is unreliable and woefully low on power is the power plant that has been strapped to the back of Alonso’s car these past few years and Fernando, one of the world’s best drivers must be sadly rueing the upturned fortunes at his former team Ferrari and watching as rival Lewis Hamilton goes on to break ever more records. Hamilton now has 67 poles, 1 behind all time pole position holder Michael Schumacher who has 68, and a tally of 57 wins, second only to Schumacher again who has totalled 91.

The fact is, Alonso’s experience this year is not altogether uncommon. Remember Emerson Fittipaldi driving his brother’s Copersucar or Jacques Villeneuve in the uncompetitive BAR? Then there was Damon Hill who had a similar experience after he won the World Championship in 1996. His employer, Frank Williams, clearly didn’t think Damon was capable of such a feat as before the end of the season he had signed another driver for the next year. Damon was dropped and accepted a drive with the Arrows team. He had perhaps thought that Arrows were a middle of the grid team trying to move to the front but the reality was that they were a back of the grid team trying to move to the middle. Like Alonso in 2017, Damon must have watched in frustration as Jacques Villeneuve drove his Williams to the 1997 championship, just as Villeneuve himself watched as Mika Hakkinen and Schumacher fought for the championship in 1998.

Will Alonso return to Ferrari? Will he stay at McLaren and gamble on a better engine for next year? Could he even slip into Mercedes and partner Hamilton? Will I sign up for Sky TV?

Only time will tell.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to find out more.

Three Champions of Formula One

I’m not a great sports fan. I’ve no interest in football and cricket does nothing for me but formula one racing is something I’ve followed since my school days. What I’ve always loved about racing are the true champions of the sport, those drivers that have gone down in the annals of motor sporting history as the greats. My own personal favourite driver and the driver who to me is the greatest driver ever, is Sir Jackie Stewart.

Jackie Stewart Image courtesy wikipedia

Jackie Stewart Image courtesy wikipedia

You’ve heard of course of the great natural talents of Ayrton Senna and also of the man known as the professor, Alain Prost and his intelligent and calculating approach to racing. Imagine then those two disciplines put together in one man, well if that were possible the result would be Jackie Stewart. Jackie has all the qualities of a great driver: Fast in qualifying, fast in racing. Fast in the dry, fast in the wet. He also has those other great qualities, car control and understanding of the car as well as a great race craft. You’ve heard of Michael Schumacher and his reputation as the rainmeister I’m sure but well before Schumacher was even a glint in his father’s eye Jackie was winning the foggy and washed out 1968 German Grand Prix by four minutes from his nearest rival. Four minutes! Can you believe that?

Believe it my friend because that was one of the great wet weather drives of all time.

My personal favourite of Jackie’s wins was the 1969 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Monza at that time had still not been hampered by the chicanes that were to be added a few years later. It was a fast high speed track and the event was a slip streaming formula one sprint. Cars hurtled along sucking the following cars along in their wake and the following driver would use this slipstream to hurtle past. The trick to win the Italian Grand prix was to exit the last corner in second place, slipstream the leader and take the win.

In 1969 however wily Scotsman Jackie Stewart reasoned that if he added an extra-long fourth gear to his car the difference between hanging on to fourth for a while longer when his fellow racers were changing up a gear could enable him to win. In the race when the cars arrived at that all important last corner Jackie dived in front and exited in the lead. Jochen Rindt who was second, latched onto Stewart’s lead and was sucked up in his slip stream then ducked out to take the lead. His momentum eased momentarily as he flicked into fifth but Jackie hung on in his extra-large fourth gear and when Rindt slipstreamed past it was too late; they were past the chequered flag and Jackie had just won the race.

Senna by the author 1988

Ayrton Senna McLaren 1988 German GP

In 1988 two great drivers became teammates at McLaren-Honda, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. 1988 was a classic season for the Mclaren squad winning 15 out of the season’s 16 races but it could have been so different. The Williams team and their driver Nigel Mansell could have been in prime position to take the championship. The previous year, 1987, Mansell and team mate Nelson Piquet battled against each other and ultimately Piquet took the title but he had left for Lotus and Honda, who had been Williams’ engine partners for the previous few years had switched their allegiance to McLaren. The move had come a year earlier than had been planned and Williams were left in the lurch. Their relationship with Honda had soured when they declined to replace Nigel Mansell with Honda’s man Saturu Nakajima and they were forced to turn to a private engine manufacturer, John Judd. 1988 would not be their year. The McLarens were dominant. The only possible challenge could come from Lotus, the only other team with the unbeatable Honda engine. That challenge never appeared.

nelson Piquet Lotus 1988 German Grand Prix

Nelson Piquet Lotus 1988 German Grand Prix

Towards the end of the year, Lotus arranged for Jackie Stewart to test their car as part of a TV spot. Stewart, who had been retired for over a decade, took the wheel of the Lotus and almost straight away spotted the very issue that had dogged Lotus for the season. I well remember Peter Warr, the Lotus Team manager saying to TV cameras very diplomatically that Jackie had ‘correctly identified an issue the team were already working on.’ If only Jackie had tested the car earlier in the season, perhaps then they could have challenged the McLarens.

Jackie Stewart at Oulton Park in 1988 with son Paul

Jackie Stewart at Oulton Park in 1988 with son Paul

Three factors then cement Jackie’s position as one of the best drivers ever: his natural ability and car control, his affinity with the motor car and ability to translate that intuition back to the engineers and designers and his canny wisdom, intelligence and pure race craft. After he retired from the sport Jackie Stewart spent years as a PR man for companies like Ford. Later he built up his Stewart formula one team which later sold to Ford for it to become the Jaguar F1 team. Later still, Ford began to reduce its investment in motor sport and the team was sold again this time for it to morph into Red Bull Racing which won four world championships with driver Sebastian Vettel.

In later years Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna came together in a television interview where Stewart famously challenged Senna about his driving style and his collisions with other drivers. Senna brushed it off but later admitted that Stewart was right and that he had deliberately pushed Alain Prost off the track in Japan 1990. According to an interview with Stewart in the Daily Mail, Senna apologised to Jackie before admitting to the press what he had done.

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost Mclaren 1988 German Grand Prix

Alain Prost, like Jackie became a team owner in the late 1990s with Ligier, renaming it Prost Grand Prix. Sadly the team went bankrupt in 2002.

Senna and Prost as is well known had numerous battles together on and off the race track. Prost left McLaren believing that team boss Ron Dennis supported Senna rather than him and left to drive for Ferrari. He joined Williams in 1993 but declined to partner Senna in 1994 and retired from driving.

Ayrton Senna was killed in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. In formula one the event is known as ‘Black Sunday.’ Happily, Prost and Senna were reconciled in the days before the tragedy. Senna had done an in car lap of the race track for french TV  and Prost was working there as a TV pundit. Senna passed a message to Prost saying ‘we miss you Alain.’

The death of Senna and Ratzenberger at Imola were the first formula one tragedies for over twelve years and that was due in no small way to the campaigns began in the 1970’s by Jackie Stewart for better safety in formula one.

The French grand Prix

sennab copyeditThe European grand prix season is well underway and it would have been rather nice to have combined my visit to France with a trip to the French F1 event, of course that’s clearly impossible as despite being the most historic race of all -there is no French Grand Prix.

Why ever not you may ask? The answer is this : the formula one season is a tv event first and foremost. It is the tv companies of the world that pay money into Bernie  Ecclestone’s F1  franchise and a race in France doesn’t fit into his the global tv vision of F1.

What does fit in then?  The Abu Dhabi grand prix,  with its multi million dollar circuit that is used only a handful of times  per year? Where there is no local motor sporting infrastructure, no local race teams and no local race drivers, in fact no local interest at all! There is interest though in publicising this small Arab nation to the western world through the power of tv and the same holds for Bahrain, another new race in the F1 firmament where the primary focus is Bahrain, not F1. Similar events now crowd the F1 calendar, China, Korea, Russia,  and Singapore.  Speciality non events far from the hub of traditional formula one racing like Spa Francorchamps, Monza, Zandvort, Silverstone, and the Nurburgring.

Recently Bernie Ecclestone was asked about the return of the French race. No, he said we will be having a race in Azerbaijan next year!  What? Can this man be serious? Clearly he is.

Ecclestone, who is currently facing bribery charges in a Munich court can clearly see the cash register jingling on the F1 till.  Still, when you consider he has been accused of slipping someone a forty four million dollar bribe, well,  the potential profits in that deal must presumably be in excess of, well. forty four million dollars!

The time has come for formula one racing to hand the managerial reins over to someone who is more interested in the sport than the million dollar pay check. OK, the sport has to make money, who would argue with that?  After all, the costs of todays race machinery, cars, engines, race tracks, drivers and logistics, is fantastic and teams like Marussia are desperate for points in order to tap into the incoming TV revenue to stay afloat.

My advice as a long time race fan; ditch Bernie, ditch the exotic locations and go back to basics. recruit a CEO like Jackie Stewart, a highly respected F1 elder statesman who loves the sport and from that one standpoint will be on a level field with formula one fans the world over.