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.

F1 2019 and the Sky TV Era

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

Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, almost but not quite.


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

7 Classic Covers from Autosport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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


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

 

Coal Fires, Pub Bands and Formula One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Another Slice of My Life

A while ago I published a post called ‘A Slice of my Life‘ which was in fact a homage to a similar post by one of my favourite bloggers, a fellow from the USA. You might be thinking OK, Steve’s run out of ideas, he’s got to pinch something from some other blogger. Well you’re free to think that if you want but I’m sticking to my version, that I was so impressed by that rival blog I produced a ‘homage’. In music terms we could say I ‘sampled’ his post which is when you get a great record that has pinched something from a much better original. (Did he say ‘pinched’ I hear you asking?)

Anyway, as I’m a little short of ideas, I though I’d revisit that theme again, this time, no pizza involved.

This week Liz and I visited a psychic event. It was some kind of charity function and consisted of three mediums who demonstrated their psychic powers to a small audience. Liz and I and another couple arrived early and grabbed front row seats although sadly the bar was closed for the duration of the event. Pity because I quite fancied a pint of lager, however it was thought that activity at the bar might disturb the vibrations from the ‘other side’. Oh well.

The event kicked off with the first medium. Unfortunately this particular lady looked very like a character from a short-lived sit com that Liz and I both loved. It was called Early Doors and revolves around a small public house in Manchester called the Grapes and the group of regulars who drink there. Two of the characters are Eddie and Joan who always sit in the corner and discuss issues like temporary traffic lights, Joan’s mother’s cats and ‘chippy’ teas. Joan was the absolute spitting image of our first medium and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. Anyway, this lady started off by picking up vibrations from a lady who had passed over to the other side. No one seemed to recognise this lady until our medium focussed on a lady in the audience who she was ‘drawn’ to. Eventually the lady in the audience recognised her father from the vague descriptions given and seemed pretty impressed with the information given from the other side.

The next lady started off with another vague description but no one wanted to be a part of it. No one had relations overseas or knew a stocky gentleman who had passed over with throat issues so that one really died the death, if you know what I mean. Everything then stopped for a tea break. Now, you might get the idea from these remarks that perhaps I’m not a believer in psychic or mediums or indeed the afterlife. No, not true. I do believe the human spirit survives death but when the psychic looks like a character from your favourite sit-com, her credibility goes right out of the window.

One of the great things about my current semi-retired status is that I only work three shifts and then can look forward to six lovely days off. This weekend my three days on centred over the bank holiday weekend, which in one way was a bit of a pain, in others not so. It’s great to have time off like other people but when the whole country gets the same day off and the roads are crammed with traffic and when you get to your destination and that is crammed with people I sometimes think, what the heck, I’d rather be working and have time off on some quieter day when everyone else is at work.

The bit that was the pain was the fact that it was the Monaco Grand Prix weekend which was live on terrestrial TV’s channel 4. The Monaco Grand Prix is a sort of leftover from the days of classic motor sport. It is really rather wonderful to see Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso race on what is  essentially the same track as Fangio, Moss and Clark drove on many years ago. F1 race tracks today are frankly rather boring and the tracks that are pretty exciting are few and far between. Years ago the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Brands is a twisty up and down track and Silverstone, being a former airfield, is flat and full of long straights. In recent years the owners have added a number of twists and turns so Silverstone is not really the track it used to be, perhaps they are trying to make it more like Brands Hatch! Here’s a radical idea: Why not alternate with Brands just like we used to do?

Monaco though is the same as it always was but rather difficult for modern grand prix cars. They are too fast for the tight circuit and their wings and fins that seem to stretch out to hug the downforce are so vulnerable to getting knocked and bumped in close quarter racing. I have to hand it to Max Verstappen though. He started from the back of the grid after a shunt in practice but fought his way through to 9th. Pretty impressive.

Anyway, off the track Monaco is full of glitz and glamour. It’s great to see the former F1 stars who lurk in the paddock coming back to the old venue not as drivers but as visitors, lapping up the champagne, the yachts, the Michelin starred restaurants and so on. One day I will shell out some of my hard-earned cash and go to Monaco for the race and have a very expensive drink in the Tip Top bar where Graham Hill and other stars of my youth used to drink. (Nowadays it’s a glass of organic tomato juice and off to bed early for Graham’s modern counterparts.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I had to work over the weekend on the late shift so I had to avoid e-mails (numerous F1 website newsletters that might give away the race results) TV, (don’t want to see the results on the news) and friends (always ready to spill the results I don’t want to know) just so I could get home and watch the race on video without any advance knowledge spoiling the results for me.

I’ve spent some time this week as usual with my old mum. She is 89 this year and the days when she would cook my favourite tea, wash all my clothes, and make my bed with crisp fresh sheets are long gone. Now she has to put up with my cheat’s roast beef (boil in the bag beef and frozen roasties) and other meals I produce. Pity she doesn’t care for chilli because I used to make a pretty top-notch chilli.

Today my Mum and I have conversations like this:

ME: Mum, I’m off to work. I’ll see you later at about ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you back?

ME: Ten thirty.

MUM: Are you coming back here tonight?

ME: Yes, at ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you coming back?

ME: Ten thirty . .

Old age comes to us all eventually but I did find myself wondering this week if perhaps I could get one of those mediums to contact the living. My Mum for instance . .

After the bank holiday was over, Liz and I decided to head up north to Scotland for a short road trip in Liz’s motorhome. One of the great things about driving a motorhome is that other motorhome drivers always let on with a quick wave as you pass by. It’s like you’re part of a special group or fraternity, us motorhomers against the world.

The weather was gloriously hot and sunny and we motored serenely north and after a few sightseeing stops finally parked up in the car park of a welcoming pub called the Kings Arms in Ballantrae. Ballantrae is a small village and the only time I had ever heard of it before was in the Robert Louis Stevenson book, The Master of Ballantrae. I happened to mention this to my brother over the phone and being the classic movie buff he is he immediately brought up the movie version with Errol Flynn which was actually Flynn’s last film for Warner Brothers.

Motorhome life can be interesting. The next night we stopped out in the country by Loch Doon. We parked up with a rather lovely view of the Loch and set up our little barbecue and soon we were tucking into a veritable feast of steak, burger, sausage and salad. As the evening wore on and the sun began to sink behind the hills a number of midges, those tiny flies appeared. Time to pack up and settle down inside. Once inside we found midges trying to gain entry through any available area and we had to quickly lock down the vents, windows and pretty much everywhere. I don’t know if you have ever seen Hitchcock’s film The Birds where birds suddenly go on the attack but that pretty much summed up our situation and we fought off those midges with anything we could lay our hands on.

The next morning all was quiet on the loch but the midgies were gathered there on the outside of our motorhome resting before no doubt renewing their attack on us later. Time to make a quick getaway!


Enjoyed this post? Why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Watch the video below for a quick taster or click the options at the top of the page for info or to buy!

Weekend of a Champion

As this weekend is the start of the Formula One season, I thought I’d have a look through my motor sporting DVDs and recordings to get myself in the mood for a new season of the sport.

The official season reviews are rather expensive although I do have a few that I’ve picked up in stores like HMV when they are in the sales. I scanned through the season review for 2007 and fascinating stuff it was.

Kimi Raikkonen won the championship by 1 point after the final race of the season and McLaren were excluded from the results and fined an incredible $100 million because of the great McLaren/Ferrari espionage scandal! An employee of Ferrari was accused of passing confidential technical info to a colleague at McLaren. Further problems arose between Hamilton and Alonso at McLaren when Alonso blocked Hamilton in the pit lane. Yes, it was all exciting stuff.

Another F1 DVD I have is the Senna movie made in 2010. It’s a documentary film made for the big screen and consists of archive TV footage transferred to film. There is no commentary as such and the film focusses on Senna’s rivalry with Alain Prost although it is clearly slanted in Senna’s favour. It’s quite a fascinating film to watch and it was great to relive the epic battles of the 80’s with stars like Mansell, Prost and Senna.

Senna was killed in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola. Senna’s Williams hit the concrete barrier at the Tamburello corner, the scene of numerous accidents in the past. I remember watching the crash, convinced Senna would be all right, after all, Piquet had crashed there years earlier and Gerhard Berger had also had a terrible crash in the same spot, his Ferrari bursting into flames. Both Piquet and Berger survived. For Senna though time had run out. His front wheel and suspension assembly had hit his head and fatally pierced his helmet. Senna was airlifted to hospital where he later died.

After I’d finished my F1 TV marathon I started searching about in my VHS video box and unearthed a forgotten gem: Weekend of a Champion, a documentary film by Roman Polanski about Jackie Stewart and the Monaco Grand Prix. I was surprised to find that the video was sharp and clear and I settled down to watch the events of the 1971 Monte Carlo event. It was so good to be taken back to my youth and see Jackie Stewart, my all time favourite driver as he once was, not an elder statesman of the sport as he is today but as a great Formula One star, cheered and hailed by the crowds at the trackside as he made his way down from his hotel to the pit lane. It was raining that weekend at Monte Carlo, much to the dismay of Stewart but the grandstands of the principality were packed with fans.

Jackie Stewart

My autographed picture of Jackie Stewart

Jackie pointed out to Polanski the relative skills of the Formula 3 drivers as they sped past, Stewart explaining ‘he had the wrong line’ or ‘he was in the wrong gear’ and so on. Later, Stewart explained his gear choices to new team-mate Francois Cevert. Cevert was eager to learn from the number 1 race driver of the day. He looked vital and fresh in the film. Sadly, Cevert was later killed in 1973, just as he was about to become the team’s number one driver as Stewart retired.

One particular scene stood out for me. Shot in Jackie’s hotel room, he is on the balcony talking to his wife Helen and director Polanksi. As they chat the camera comes back into the room and reveals Nina Rindt, the widow of the 1970 world champion Jochen Rindt, killed at Monza in practice for the Italian Grand Prix. She looks sad and ill at ease and later Helen explains that in the past she and Nina, Jackie and Jochen spent time together travelling the world as they competed in motor races. She had come to Monaco at Helen’s invitation, to spend time together and perhaps remember the happy times of the past. The Formula One of the 1970’s was no less glamorous than that of today, although perhaps tinged with a sadness for the many who lost their lives back then.

After a little bit of research I see that Roman Polanski restored the film some years ago and added a twenty minute interview with himself and Jackie Stewart. I must look out for that on DVD.

Today Sir Jackie Stewart is one of the elder statesmen of F1 racing. He speaks his mind as he always has done but I do get the feeling he is not universally popular with the fans of today. Quite a few times I have defended him in internet forums only to get into one of those annoying on-line arguments. Jackie pulls no punches and in the Senna video I mentioned earlier, Jackie took Ayrton to task for his on track actions although many of his meatier comments were not to be found on that video. I hope I will get a glance of Sir Jackie at the Australian Grand Prix this weekend although Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and co will take centre stage, and rightly so.


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

F1: Looking back to 2017 and forward to 2018

F1 testing has been in the news lately and as usual that got me thinking about the new season. Firstly, I have to start by saying that I was under the impression, apparently erroneously, that Formula One racing was to be the exclusive property of Sky TV in 2018. Apparently the exclusive Sky deal begins in 2019 so terrestrial TV viewers like me still have another year in which to watch Formula One without paying for a Sky TV package. Formula One is not what it was, well, not for me certainly but it is still Formula One, the highest level of the sport and it is difficult to give up the habit of a lifetime and stop following the F1 teams and their worldwide races.

Let me start this post by looking quickly back at the 2017 season. Lewis Hamilton won the 2017 world championship taking his tally of championships up to four, joining Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel, two other four-time champions. Lewis may be a great F1 champion but his efforts in the field of social media have not been so successful. He released a video berating his nephew for dressing up as a princess and as a result released a storm of social media controversy. I’m not sure why because it was a completely innocent fun family video but one quite funny response was a Tweet showing a picture of Lewis in a tartan jacket twinned with a picture of Princess Diana in a similar jacket. All good fun you might have thought but it apparently led to Lewis deleting many of his social media accounts. Oh well, stick to the motor racing Lewis.

Lewis’ new teammate for 2017 was Valtery Bottas who had a reasonable season, scoring his maiden F1 win and first pole position but the main challenge to Lewis came from Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari who quickly won the opening round in Australia. Later, his campaign for the championship self destructed after not only car reliability issues but a major disaster when Vettel and team-mate Raikkonen collided with Verstappen’s Red Bull in Singapore. Vettel self destructed in more ways than one because in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, cars were running behind the safety car and Vettel bumped into the back of Hamilton’s Mercedes. Thinking Lewis had given him a brake test he decided to drive alongside and bump wheels with the British driver in a decidedly unsporting gesture. As it happened, despite heavy criticism, he managed to escape a race ban.

The only other winners in 2017 were the Red Bull duo who scored a win in Azerbaijan for Daniel Ricciardo and wins in Malaysia and Mexico for boy wonder Verstappen.

2017 was the year in which McLaren lost patience with Honda and decided to end their fruitless partnership. In 2018 McLaren will be using the Renault engine and Honda will be working with the Torro Rosso team. Looking back at the success Honda and McLaren have had in the past, it’s hard to understand how this new partnership has failed but then again, I read an interesting article in the racing press last year about technology ‘cross fertilization’!

Let me explain. You’ve heard of Silicon Valley no doubt; it’s a place in the USA where computer and technology companies congregate. Companies working in a similar business and congregating in the same location is not a new idea. For instance, in the early 20th century movie makers set up shop in Hollywood, California, making it the centre of the movie making world. In the Formula One world a large majority of the current Formula One teams are located within 80 minutes drive of Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire and the area has been nicknamed ‘Motorsport Valley’. The result of this closeness means that the staff of these teams live nearby and when they seek pastures new, just like their F1 driving counterparts, they move to another nearby racing team. This results in a broadening of the general F1 knowledge base as ideas move from team to team with each exchange of staff. In an article on the BBC website, I read that now almost 3,500 companies associated with motorsport are based in Motorsport Valley, employing around 40,000 people. That represents around 80% of the world’s high-performance engineers.

Paddy Lowe left Mercedes for Williams last year and no doubt the technical knowledge he brought with him will mean a step forward for Williams with their new 2018 car. Anyway, here’s my point: the exception to this rule of course is Honda, who reside on the other side of the world in Japan. No ‘cross fertilisation’ there! Perhaps that fact has played a part in their lack of success.

Fernando Alonso was relegated to the sidelines in 2017 but he has broadened his wings by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and has made plans to race in the Daytona 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours this year. He has made it known he wants to emulate the feat of Graham Hill; the only man to win the so-called triple crown of motorsport: the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 hour race. Of course, once he starts to be competitive in F1 again, perhaps those plans may go on the back burner. Still, part of his thinking must be to leave his mark on the motor sporting record books. If he cannot do this in F1 then of course he has to set his sights in another direction.

Talking of motor sporting record books, Lewis Hamilton, the current World Champion, has made major inroads on those records recently. In 2017 he became the man with the most pole positions, 72 at the time of writing, beating Michael Schumacher on 68 and Ayrton Senna with 65. Only two men have won more world championships; Fangio who won 5 and Schumacher who won 7. Schumacher also holds the record for the most F1 race wins with 91 victories and Lewis is now in second place with 62. Alonso has only 32 wins; still a great tally but he has a long way to go to get close to Lewis Hamilton. No wonder the triple crown looks so sweet.

So what does 2018 hold for racing fans?

F1 cars will look pretty different this year with all cars required to use the halo device, a sort of extension of the roll bar that extends all around the cockpit. Some drivers like it, some don’t but if it saves lives everyone should be giving it the thumbs up. Here’s what it looks like from a driver’s perspective:

Robert Kubica is a name you might remember from a few years back. Robert was an F1 driver, tipped as a future world champion, who was badly injured in a rallying accident in 2011 in which his arm was partially severed. Happily, the arm was sewed back on but with reduced mobility. Since then, Kubica has inched his way back to fitness and has completed numerous tests in an F1 car and has been in the running for a place in the Williams F1 team. Williams have run their quest for their 2018 drivers something like a TV talent show and their deliberations have been constantly in the racing media. Who is in the running? Who will get the drive? Well, it turns out it isn’t Robert Kubica but perhaps if something goes wrong for the main drivers, he might get a chance to fill in because he has been announced as Williams 2018 reserve driver. Not quite sure if I understand that decision because Robert Kubica as well as his undeniable talent, brings a lot of press attention to any team he is in, which is just what the team sponsors need. Can he cope with a modern F1 car? Hopefully, yes. The other two drivers, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin bring new talent and a great deal of financial backing to the team. Wonder what the main factor was in employing those two?

As I said earlier, 2018 will see a Renault engine in the back of a McLaren so hopefully Fernando Alonso will be up at the front of the grid again. If he isn’t, this season will be a disaster of epic proportions for McLaren who of course have dumped Honda because their engine wasn’t powerful enough. Toro Rosso will have the Honda strapped to the back of their cars so it will be interesting to see just how well they do in 2018.

One thing missing from the F1 grid this year will be grid girls. You know, the female promotional models who have been present on F1’s starting grids since -well, since forever really. New F1 owners Liberty Media say grid girls ‘do not resonate with our brand values’ so don’t expect to see pretty girls on the grid this year.

Will the racing be better or closer? The answer is anyone’s guess but Liberty Media also announced a revamp of its TV production this year. Apparently lower camera angles, improved on board footage and slightly later start times will improve the TV broadcasts. Liberty also have a much better appreciation of social media than predecessor Bernie Ecclestone which is why F1 video clips are much more prevalent on the internet today and why I can even link a few of them on this post.

So, F1 is improving the TV coverage and reaching out to internet users. Will the drivers and cars provide the excitement and competition we want? Well, to find out, make sure you tune in on the 25th March for the Australian Grand Prix season opener.


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. You can find the book at amazon by clicking here.

No Hiding Place and the Mexican Grand Prix

No Hiding PlaceI should start this post by explaining something. My blog posts have a sort of gestation period, usually about three weeks. I think of an idea and type out a few notes or a first draft. Sometimes I put it on my workstation and add to it as the day goes on and quiet moments appear. At home I’ll go over it again adding bits here, changing the language there. Sometimes I write about something topical and of course, by the time the post is published, the incident or event or TV show I’m writing about happened some time ago, so for the reader, it’s hardly topical at all! What is worse is that sometimes I shove something in ahead of schedule, making the post that was due to be posted even more out of date. Bit of a nightmare for readers I know so cast your mind back a few weeks. In the UK it was sunny but cool. Remember the weekend of the Mexican Grand Prix? Right, so here we go . .

The Mexican Grand Prix was the eighteenth race of the year, just this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi race left to finish off the 2017 season. As I am far too tight to subscribe to Sky TV and their Formula 1 channel, I have to make do with the terrestrial broadcast over at Channel Four. I say make do but that’s a little unfair, the F1 coverage over at Channel Four is actually very good indeed. David Coulthard is an excellent commentator and pundit and his colleagues, Ben Edwards and Karun Chandhok are excellent. Also making occasional appearances are Mark Webber, Eddie Jordan and Suzie Wolff, and together they make a great team. Sadly, not all the races are live and such was the case of the Mexican event. It turned out that Mexico was a key race with the possibility of Hamilton clinching his fourth world crown. Both the qualifying session and the race were broadcast late -after ten at night- so I set myself the task of not seeing the results until I watched the broadcast. Luckily I wasn’t at work so colleagues telling me about the race or feeding me dud information wasn’t an issue.

On race day I wasn’t actually sure what time the event was actually taking place. Was Mexico behind the UK or ahead? I could check the internet but then that gave rise to the possibility of seeing something like an e-mail about the event. I subscribe to a number of F1 web sites and their e-mail newsletters always have the winner’s name in the subject so e-mails and Internet were a no-no. Liz wanted to go into Lytham for some event on the sea front but again, that threw up the possibility of seeing someone, friend or foe, who would blab the results. No, the only answer was to stay indoors, shun contact with anyone and everyone, lock the doors and watch recorded TV only.

I pulled up my favourite comfy chair and found I had an episode of ‘Who do you think you are?’ featuring J K Rowling to watch, and very fascinating viewing it was too. I didn’t really know much about J K Rowling other than she has penned one of the most well read book series in modern publishing history and the programme was very interesting, so much so it spurred me to find out more about her. Apparently, the idea for Harry Potter and the school of wizardry came to her fully formed on a delayed rail journey from Manchester to London. She moved to Edinburgh after the failure of her marriage and wrote her first novel while on benefits. Much of the writing was done in local cafes where she walked with her baby daughter. The pram journey in the fresh air sent the youngster to sleep and J K was free to write. The K was actually an addition to her name by the publishers. They thought J K Rowling sounded better than J or Joanne Rowling.  The programme traced her French great grandfather’s origins in France and learned he had won the Croix de Guerre in the First World War. It was wonderful to see various grand and important archives give up their dusty old secrets.

In 2016 The Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £600 million, a tidy few quid more than I have made from Floating in Space. I have never read any of the Harry Potter books or even seen the films so perhaps I should put them on my reading list.

Anyway, that programme took us to just after lunchtime so I chanced a look on my Ipad. I thought Ebay would be a safe site, no F1 news there. I looked at a few things and with Liz’s help tracked down a new phone which, when it arrives, will enable me to join the smart phone brigade.

Time for some tea and an afternoon/early evening film. I had recorded A Good Year the previous day which was a romcom directed by Ridley Scott. I had not seen the film before and it was reasonably pleasant but it had a lot of irritating faults that could have easily been removed to make it into a really good film. The photography was lush and atmospheric but the editor seemed to have chopped and cut it together rather haphazardly. There were flashbacks to the youth of the Russell Crowe character which I wasn’t sure were flashbacks at first. The soundtrack was dreadful and Russell Crowe was just totally miscast. His english accent was odd and his haircut even odder. I can imagine maybe Hugh Grant or some genuine Englishman would have been more believable. An enjoyable film but it could have been so much better.

When I stopped the recording, our hard drive recorder switched to the BBC news and to my horror, I heard the announcer talk about Lewis Hamilton’s fourth world championship! No! I quickly flipped over to another channel. Okay, Hamilton may be world champion but did he win the race? Perhaps Bottas or Vettel had won. Raikkonen has looked good this year; was he in with a shout?

Finally, 10.30 pm came and I sat back to watch the race. Hamilton came 9th and Max Verstappen was the winner. Sebastian Vettel came fourth. He and Hamilton had a coming together on the first lap. Vettel recovered better than Hamilton but fourth place was not enough to deny Lewis the championship. Not a great race but I was pleased that I had come though the day and watched the race highlights without knowing the eventual winner until I finally watched the race.

The whole thing reminded me of a Likely Lads episode I remembered from way back, in an episode called No Hiding Place, James Bolam and Rodney Bewes try to avoid hearing the result of a football match until the highlights are shown that evening. I know how they felt!


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