Pandemics and Podcasts

This blog seems to come round pretty quickly, too quickly really. Looking at my stack of blog post drafts I couldn’t see one that I could really get excited about finishing. That lethargy and tedium is of course a consequence of the lockdown. The lockdown continues to plod along, bringing everything down to its slow and humdrum pace. I’ve stayed at home like most people and pretty much done a great deal of nothing. The usual highlight of the week used to be a night in a restaurant and a visit to our local pub quiz. Now it’s a trip to the shops. What will be in the special offers aisle?

The Dentist.

A really big event this week was a trip to the dentist. I’ve not had a check up for quite a while but this one was a little different. We usually spend quite a bit of time waiting in the waiting room but no, due to Covid 19 precautions we weren’t even allowed inside the building until it was time to actually see the dentist. As Liz and I actually live together it was deemed OK for us to enter the surgery together. The dentist then changed his mind and decided no, one at a time must be the norm, irrespective of living arrangements. It was me of course who was ejected and rather than sit in the cold and rain I parked my car so it was just opposite the dentist’s doors and the nurse or dental assistant could just wave me over when it was my turn.

After a quick check of my molars, the dentist decided an x ray was in order. An old filling needed replacing so a new appointment was made for that. Oh and that crown I asked about some time ago. Yes, that was the one the dentist thought was unnecessary, well now after a few months without any income, the dentist has decided yes, we can sort that out, that will be another appointment and £280 please. Of course, the private non NHS crown is much better and will blend in much better with my current set of choppers. That will be £550.

A few moments later when the dentist’s assistant handed me a whopping great bill my inner tightwad kicked in and I thought, Whoa, steady on. Let me think about that for a while.

Two Topical Events.

Sometimes I think I should try to be a little more topical on my posts and so perhaps I should mention this week’s big news, the Harry and Meghan interview. I’ve read that in the USA it went down really well making the two really popular. In the UK it went down pretty much like a lead balloon as we Brits really don’t like anyone upsetting the Queen. Meghan was whinging that her children won’t have a royal title, well the fact is, neither do any of the Queen’s other great grandchildren and if they are so upset about publicity and want to live a quiet life, why go to the USA and court the media? Of course, now they are no longer on the Royal payroll they need to make a few quid to support themselves. After all, Harry has only got the meagre ten million his mother left him so embracing the media might be a good move for him.

Personally, I think that the royals are over paid, over privileged and over here. The flip side is that like them or lump them, the Royal Family are the glue that holds the United Kingdom together. If we had a President the country would descend into chaos and be split apart. Would Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland accept an English President? Would the Scots accept a Conservative President? Perhaps the Irish would want an Irishman but then would they want a Protestant or a Catholic? The Queen is happily above all that which is probably why she has endured for so long and kept the Commonwealth and the UK together.

The really big news this week for me was actually the death of Murray Walker the famous motor sport commentator. Murray has commentated on motor sport and particularly F1 for almost as long as I can remember. Murray used to commentate on rallycross and motorcycle scrambling back in the 1970’s and I once remember him commentating on a segment of the Le Mans 24 hour race and being surprised when the broadcast cut back to the BBC sport studio and there was Murray sat at a desk in front of a monitor with his microphone. I had just assumed he was at the race track. The BBC began a regular F1 broadcast in 1978. Before that they just used to show the odd event here and there which was not good for race fans like me. Walker became the undisputed voice of the sport until he retired in 2001. Clive James once said that Murray, in his quieter moments sounded like a man with his trousers on fire, such was the high spirits and enthusiasm of his broadcasts. F1 will never be the same again.

Podcasting

What else have I done this week? Well, a long time ago I thought about starting a podcast. Now I don’t know much about them but I thought as I’ve produced more than 400 or so blog posts, (actually this epic you are now reading is my 450th post) surely a few of those might be easy enough to convert to a podcast. I mean, I could just read out a few of them into my laptop microphone, cut out a few umms and ahs, just as I do with my video narrations and Bob’s your uncle.

A good idea to start, I thought was a post with some good turns of phrase and perhaps a good theme. Now one that came to mind straight away was a post I did yonks a go about time. Yes, time. The idea occurred to me when Liz and I visited some military cemeteries in Northern France. All the places we visited had a calm and tranquil ambience. Clearly that can’t have been the case during the First World War. Then the place must have looked like a wilderness filled with craters. The sound of deadly gunfire would have been all around along with explosions from the artillery bombardments. Time must have run faster then so now to compensate, time, or so it seems to me at these quiet and peaceful memorials, runs slowly.

What made the podcast easier to produce was the fact that I had already used some of that text in a narration for a video about the military cemeteries of France. I took the sound recordings, added a little intro, the welcome to my new podcast type of stuff, cleaned up the sound in my trusty sound mixer and hey presto, I finished up with a good five minutes of me rabbiting away as a new podcast.

Anyway, after all that, I set about working out how to actually broadcast a podcast, how to actually get it live on air. I spent a fair old bit of time trying to sort it out but failed dismally and put the whole project on the back burner.

The other day however, I opened up WordPress to find a new article titled ‘How to grow Your Podcast with Anchor’ there in front of me. I logged into Anchor and found that I could actually convert my written blog posts straight into a sound recording. I had a choice of two voices, one male and the other female. I chose the male voice which had a sort of Cary Grant quality. Not actually like Cary himself but similar, sort of like a newsreader with a transatlantic kind of tone. The resulting reading wasn’t perfect. Sadly it couldn’t differentiate between ‘it’ and ‘IT’. That’s when I remembered that earlier podcast recording about military cemeteries and time.

It was really quite fun to open up Spotify and find, alongside my favourite podcasts, the new Letters from an Unknown Author. Click here to listen to the first episode.

Click here To listen on Pocketcasts or try this link with various options.


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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.

More Letters to Younger Selves

Wait just a minute! Letters to Younger Selves? Haven’t we had this post already I can hear you thinking? In fact not just once; there was Letters to My Younger Self and then we had A Video to My Younger Self? Hasn’t this guy got any new ideas? OK, I know where you’re coming from but bear with me for a short while. I did do a post a while back which was about me writing a letter to my younger self. Then the other week I told you about how I put together a video version for my YouTube channel. This week I want to tell you about what happened when I actually uploaded the video.

Now I did say the original letters post wasn’t my own idea. I got it from one of those blog writing prompts that can easily be found in either Google or your search engine of choice. After uploading my video I always do a search for it and if it comes up near the top of the search then I’ve feel I done a pretty good job in terms of tags and meta data (all that technical stuff) and choosing a good post title. A search for A letter to My Younger Self gave up some surprising results, in fact it seemed to me that everyone and his dog had been making a short video on this same subject. Even more surprising was that a lot of these short videos were by Formula One drivers. I’m guessing that at some time there was some kind of trend for this subject, perhaps a promotion around the hashtag #DearMe but when it comes down to it, I might as well admit, I don’t know.

Anway, I thought it might be interesting to showcase a few of the videos I came across so let’s start with Fernando Alonso, frustrated former Ferrari driver who jumped ship thinking Honda were going to create a world beating engine for his new Mclaren team, only they didn’t. Hard luck Fernando.

(I should point out here that F1 being the multi million dollar global industry it is, they wouldn’t for a minute let these videos play on my cheap nasty amateur blog post. Press play then you have to click the button that says ‘Play on YouTube’. Annoying I know but hey, that’s big business for you.)

Many people think that Fernando is one of, if not the greatest driver of all time. Those people are of course completely wrong and this then is the perfect time to introduce someone who actually is the greatest driver ever. Jackie Stewart, winner of 27 Grands Prix from 99 starts, three World Championships and now one of the Formula One world’s elder statesmen.

South African Jody Scheckter was once the enfant terrible of Formula One, especially when he spun and caused a huge pile up at the beginning of the British Grand Prix back in 1973. A lot of people weren’t happy but Scheckter went on to drive for Ferrari and win a World Championship in 1979.

Emerson Fittipaldi was one of my favourite drivers of the 1970’s. He took over from the late Jochen Rindt at Lotus and won three world Championships before electing to drive for his brother’s new F1 team. Things didn’t work out so well for the Fittipaldi brothers and Emerson retired for a while but then made a comeback in American Indycars winning the Indycar title in 1989.

Someone who did what Emerson did, only in reverse, was Mario Andretti. He was a champion in the US and had a few one off drives for Colin Chapman, head of he Lotus team who tried numerous times to lure Andretti over to F1. Andretti finally dipped his toe into F1 and won the world title for Lotus in 1978. He was the last American to date to win an F1 race. He won numerous races in all types of racing disciplines in the USA including 4 Indycar championships and numerous other races and awards. He is probably as synonymous with motor sport in the USA as Stirling Moss was in the UK.

I think that’s probably enough from the F1 world so I’ll finish with some other famous people. The first non F1 person I came across was Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the assassinated president. It’s pretty brief and the good news is that all these next videos can be played within this post!

Still with the Presidential theme here’s something from former first lady Michelle Obama.

Art Garfunkel, former singing partner of Paul Simon did one too . .

And finally, here’s one which isn’t by a celebrity. I came across this one after hours of trolling through Google and YouTube. Many videos I found were of young people talking to their even younger selves so really they didn’t have much to say. I think that the whole theme is better suited to someone older, someone in their later years looking back to their youth. Anyway, here’s a pretty inspiring video.

Finally it’s time to plug my own video once again. Here’s a slightly edited version with a few subtle sound effects added . .


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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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A Slice of my Life Part 4

Just now we are approaching my favourite time of the year. The days are getting longer, spring is nearly here and the days are beginning to get warmer. Understood by our ancestors to be a potent portal of power, the Spring Equinox which happened yesterday, has long been celebrated as an awakening time of growing energy and budding new life. Its earlier roots begin in many of the most ancient myths and tales about the Goddess regaining her power and fertility after the long months of winter. Just now though, all I can think about is what a pain in the neck the coronavirus is turning out to be. It’s pretty easy when you are watching the TV news, to sort of dismiss things that don’t seem to affect us but when you find that you actually are affected then it’s a whole different story.

Recently Liz and I were looking at our next trip in our motorhome. We thought about taking the ferry to Spain and spending a leisurely few weeks meandering north back through France and finally back up to the UK. Now we’re starting to realise it might not be worth booking that trip at all in case the ferries are cancelled. I noticed on the news that Jet2.com with whom we have flown to Lanzarote many times have cancelled their flights to Spain and the Canary Islands so we were lucky to have had our holiday in Lanzarote earlier this year. Certain countries like Spain, Italy and France are on a virtual lockdown situation. Things are looking very grim indeed, in fact it’s almost like being in the middle of a crazy science fiction film, something like Twelve Monkeys or The Andromeda Strain where a virus devastates a US town leaving only two survivors, a baby and an old man, and scientists race to find the connection and hopefully the antidote.

Recently, in the Washington Examiner, believe it or not, I read an article about an American writer who lived in Blackheath in London in the 1980’s. He pointed out that Blackheath was so named because of the 60,000 Londoners who perished as a result of the Black Death in the 14th century, many of whom are buried in Blackheath. The Black Death changed everything; it pushed up the value of labour and created a wage economy. No doubt today’s pandemic will bring about change too but as somebody once said, there is nothing new under the sun.

Mum

My mum who for a long time has become very unsteady on her feet finally entered a care home some weeks ago.  My brother and I have done our absolute best to look after her over the past two years and more but we had done as much as we could. Her mobility had dropped dramatically and her dementia has increased, with her grasp on reality gradually slipping away. At her new care home the staff specialise in dementia patients but this week when I went to visit they told me that no unnecessary visitors were being let in. In a way that means a little break for me. My mother sometimes seems reasonably lucid and at other times not so. Recently she told me she missed her mother and father and I had to tell her they died many years ago. She was very upset but I’ve always tried to be straight with her and not tell her lies. Another time she asked me why my dad had not visited her and fighting back some tears I gently told her he was working. He died twenty years ago.

Dementia has made a liar of me.

Australian Grand Prix.

One big upset relating to the virus has to be, for me at any rate, the cancelation of the Australian Grand Prix. For the past few weeks I have been checking my email updates from various Formula One blogs and web sites. I’ve read about the testing sessions in Barcelona and about the controversy over the Ferrari engine from last year. Apparently, the governing body, the FIA investigated claims that Ferrari’s engine was illegal. They dismissed the claims but declined to comment further. The other teams have protested, claiming that the FIA has tried to hush the incident up. Anyway, that incident has been forgotten now the future of this year’s racing is in doubt. F1 may not begin in earnest until May, if it begins at all.

Pity, because this could be the year that Lewis Hamilton equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 7 world championships but if there are no races, or not enough races will a championship even be awarded?

Woody Allen

The other week I was a little poorly myself. Not the corona virus but some bug that caused me to spend a lot of time being sick. I spent a lot of that time at my mother’s house just generally feeling sorry for myself and drinking hot water and lemon and watching a lot of DVDs. Looking back, those few days have got me ready for the current climate of self-isolation. Anyway, the handy thing with a DVD is that every time I had the urge to run to the toilet I could pause the film, do what I had to do and then return to my couch. Yes, I know that we can even pause live TV these days but Mum’s TV doesn’t support stuff like that.

Anyway, to entertain myself I cranked up some Woody Allen stuff on the DVD player. Midnight in Paris is one of his later films starring Owen Wilson. I’m not sure I have even liked Owen Wilson in the past but watching this film, he plays the perfect role that Woody himself might have played in his younger days.

I followed that with Radio Days, Woody’s homage to the days when radio was universally popular and kids in the pre TV age were as obsessed with radio as I was with TV in the 1960’s. Woody doesn’t appear in the film but narrates it and it tells various radio themed stories. One big point he makes is that radio listeners tend to imagine the broadcaster or actor looking as good as whatever part they are playing, so of course the hero of young Woody’s favourite show, the Masked Avenger, turns out to look nothing like we might imagine.

Third in my trilogy of Woody Allen films was Manhattan which I’ve always thought was much better than Annie Hall, Woody’s Oscar winning 1977 film which won awards in 4 categories; best film, best script, best director and best actress for Diane Keaton. Manhattan is famous for its black and white photography and it’s Gershwin music score and is just generally a lovely film, not outstandingly funny or hilarious but gently humorous.

For real laugh out loud humour, you have to go back to Woody’s earlier films like Take the Money and Run and Bananas. My favourite moment from these earlier films is in Bananas. At the end of the film Woody marries his love interest played by Louise Lasser who was once upon a time his real-life love interest. The two go to bed to consummate the marriage but the ‘bout’ is shown on TV with two actual US TV commentators Howard Cosell, and Don Dunphy. Allen and Lasser get under the sheets and afterwards the two discuss the action with the interviewer as if they have just competed in a prizefight.

Despite his wonderful films, Woody Allen is a controversial character these days. His latest film lies unreleased, despite a deal with Amazon, and a similar fate has fallen to his memoirs. I recently read an interesting article about Woody and Woody’s memoirs, which were apparently dropped by publisher Hacher after a staff walk out. Journalist Hadley Freeman said ‘What a strange, through-the-looking-glass world we live in, when people who consider themselves to be liberals celebrate suppressing others’ words.’

Woody has been investigated for abusing his step daughter Dylan Farrow twice and declared innocent, although his now adult step daughter still claims Woody was an abuser. The abuse apparently relates to only one occasion and no other person has come forward to complain of abuse at Woody’s hands, unlike people like producer Harvey Weinstein, Michael Jackson or Jimmy Saville to name but three.

Freeman goes on to point out ‘It would have been one thing if Hachette had never agreed to publish Allen’s memoir in the first place. Fair enough; that’s a publisher’s prerogative. But for it to sign him, edit him and then fearfully drop him because some people object is a terrible precedent for a publisher to set.’

Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian.

YouTube

Despite being an avid video maker, I haven’t produced any great video works lately apart from the usual trailers that I use to plug my book, Floating in Space. As I’ve had a distinct lack of ideas, I’ve tended to continue making short video versions of my poems which keeps me busy and not only that, as a frustrated film director, there is nothing I like more than messing about with video, cutting and splicing and mastering sound effects.

Every so often I try to update the introductory video on my YouTube page. It’s nothing outstanding but I do like to try and make it reasonably exciting, so as to lure followers -and potential readers- into my clutches. Just recently I made a new version over on Animoto.com which is an online editing studio which comes with various templates themed for various types of project. My new video was pretty similar to the last one but I’d added a new block template which inserted a series of pictures fairly quickly. Perhaps that was the reason why, when it was uploaded to YouTube, they quickly deleted it as apparently it had infringed YouTube community guidelines involving spam, misleading metadata and scams!

Now the video in question may not have been Oscar material but it certainly wasn’t a scam or spam for that matter. You can’t see it on YouTube but here it is on Animoto.

YouTube were pretty quick to delete the video and send me an e-mail about it. They said I could appeal so I did so straight away, after all it’s a pretty innocuous video, it’s not offensive and it’s hardly spam. They sent me back another e-mail saying my appeal has been approved but the video is still not visible on my channel. Not only that, I couldn’t write back to YouTube to complain because their email would not accept replies. YouTube is like a big monolithic entity and they are actually pretty difficult to contact. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and hope that some person, some real person rather than a computer program, will look at my video and say ‘that looks OK, let’s reinstate it!’

I live in hope.


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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.