Past and Future: Some F1 Thoughts and Reflections

Back in the 1970’s I subscribed to a magazine called Motor Sport. The magazine was, and still is, a monthly motor sporting glossy and I kept each copy as my reference guide and revered it as my motor sporting bible. The F1 races were always fully covered in detail and there was also an interesting reflections column written by a journalist who signed himself DSJ.

DSJ was Dennis Jenkinson. Jenkinson served in the RAF where he met Bill Boddy the editor of Motor Sport and it was through Boddy that Jenkinson became the continental correspondent of Motor Sport. According to his Wikipedia page, Jenkinson or ‘Jenks’ as he was known, lived a wonderful life, well, wonderful for a bachelor motor sporting fan. He lived at a succession of digs in the UK in winter and spent the summer touring the continent watching motor sport and writing about it for the magazine. (Why can’t I get a job like that?) He famously partnered Stirling Moss in the Mille Miglia in the 1950’s and perfected a style of pace notes which later became the norm in rallying. The co-driver reads notes out to the driver about what is coming up; ‘fast left’, tight right turn’ and so on.

I always rather liked his Grand Prix reports, especially the interesting reflections he wrote which concerned motor sporting chit-chat and background stuff that he picked up in the paddock. The 1970’s era disappointed Jenks and it began to show in his writings. Jackie Stewart, who fought so hard for improved safety in F1 after seeing his friends die driving racing cars was someone who Jenks clearly loathed. To him the greats were people like Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez who were willing to race whatever the weather and didn’t care if the medical facilities were available or not. Both those drivers, I might add, were killed in motor races. Another hero of his, Stirling Moss, was lucky not to lose his life too.

In one issue, his reflections concerned a ‘jamboree’ that took place at Silverstone. He spoke at great length about the John Player Special cars, the Marlboro motor home and so on. At the end of this report he mentioned that in the midst of the ‘jamboree’ an F1 race had taken place and he listed the results. That was his Grand Prix report. It was, I suppose, a protest item. The sport he loved had become something else, actually it had become the sport I loved. I never read the magazine again and cancelled my subscription. The F1 of the 70’s was my world and the racing world pre 1970 was dark and gloomy. Sponsorship and aerodynamics gave formula one a look and feel that I have always loved and Stewart was and always will be to me, one of the great drivers of motor sport.

In the early days of the sport, cars were painted according to their home colours. The UK was British racing green, Silver for Germany, red for Italy, blue for France and so on. Italy was rather lucky, I think, to get red when the colours were given out and of course Ferraris are painted red to this day. Ferrari are the oldest and most historic team in the sport and something that has enhanced their image and prestige as much as the red colours is the prancing horse symbol. I’ve always liked the story of how Ferrari came to use the horse symbol, in fact I first read it in a comic strip in the Valiant or the Hotspur. 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.

Today a new F1 team might employ a graphic designer to create a logo for their car or team. Such a designer, having studied art and design would surely come up with a good logo but, could he capture the history or the allure of the prancing horse? I doubt it.

The Singapore Grand Prix last weekend was the background to some interesting news, although some of it was not only expected but something of an open secret. Mclaren announced that they were ending their fruitless partnership with Honda in favour of becoming a customer of the Renault F1 engine. I had read rumours about this in the F1 press for weeks but in Singapore the move was finally confirmed. McLaren have arrived at a crossroads with two choices: One, carry on ahead with Honda, Two, turn sharp right with Renault. Clearly they have chosen the right turn option.

McLaren have waited nearly three years for their partnership with Honda to bear fruit and it looks as though time has finally run out. Personally, I would have given things another year but the added problem for McLaren is that the ace they hold in their other hand -star driver Fernando Alonso- is in danger of jumping ship if the team stay with Honda, so it seems to me that this move to Renault means Alonso is more important to the team than Honda. Ron Dennis, the former Mclaren boss who arranged the deal with Honda, felt that to succeed in modern F1 a partnership with a major engine manufacturer was vital. If that is true then Torro Rosso, who will run with Honda engines next year, could well find themselves a major player in the sport with Honda backing, assuming of course, that Honda finally get their engines to work properly. As Torro Rosso are the junior team to Red Bull, it might even be possible that a fully sorted Honda engine could be powering a Red Bull in the next few years, especially as the Red Bull/Renault relationship has soured recently. Renault are here for two main reasons, as are all the other car companies involved in F1. One, to tag their brand image with racing, hi-technology and success and two, in doing so, sell more motor cars. Once the Red Bull management started slagging off Renault and putting those ideals in jeopardy, that relationship was clearly on the way out.

Fernando Alonso. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Fernando Alonso is one of the great F1 drivers, up there in terms of talent with Lewis Hamilton but clearly Hamilton has made far better team moves than his rival. He must have looked at Mercedes from the McLaren motor home, skimmed over the past poor seasons when Schumacher drove for the team, considered the money Mercedes was spending and saw the talent, managerial and technical that they were attracting and made his move, an inspired move as it turned out. Alonso’s move, in retrospect, was perhaps not such a good one.

Following the talent is always a good idea. Some years back I was surprised to see Mark Webber move from Williams to Red Bull. What on earth was he doing I thought at the time? Webber could see first hand that the glory days at Williams were over and decided to follow that top design talent, Adrian Newey to Red Bull. Top notch move, Mark.

Another interesting item from the paddock in Singapore was that Valterri Bottas was signed up for another year at Mercedes. I was always of the feeling that when Mercedes signed him up to a one year deal in 2016, they had plans for someone else the year after. Did they have their eyes on Alonso, perhaps?

Alonso brings a lot to a team, his immense driving talent for sure but he also brings with him a hefty price tag. Honda footed his $40 million salary but next year, McLaren must cough up that cash themselves. If Alonso brings success back to the McLaren team then the big name sponsors will return and everyone will be happy. Personally, I think the winners here might ultimately be the Red Bull team . .


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

Karma, Buses, and the Interconnected Universe.

blogtitileI was on the late shift this week and indulged in some day time TV watching. I was actually on the lookout for a good old fashioned black and white film but instead I came across a new channel five series called ‘On The Yorkshire Buses.’ It is one of those reality TV shows, not something I’m really that interested in but watching this show took me back about twenty five years to when I used to be a bus driver. Things have changed a lot in those intervening years according to this programme. Computer screens, mobiles, vehicle tracking, on board CCTV, yes all the usual twenty-first century technology but applied to passenger transport.

One of the issues the staff at Yorkshire buses had to contend with was a driver shortage and we saw a man who had been unemployed for two years, pass his PSV test and become a bus driver. Of course, it’s not getting staff that is important; it’s getting the right staff.

I suppose getting the right staff is an issue wherever you work. Way back when I worked at GM Buses in Stockport, I remember that we had a rota officially called the 900 rota, although unofficially known as the ‘Sick, Lame, and Lazy Rota.’ This rota was staffed by a bunch of people all near to retirement age and they did a regular split shift, Monday to Friday only, no weekends, and it was all easy work; the odd works’ service and a couple of the easier school runs. Thrown in to their duties also was a gratuitous share of standby time. Standby was when you have spare drivers or conductors, ready to fill in when a bus has broken down way out in the country or a crew has called in sick. The thing was, with the 900 rota people, their standby time was only a couple of hours so they were ninety nine percent certain they would never be called to go out. The drivers were fairly amenable old chaps but the conductors, all clippies, (female conductresses) were all quite the opposite. Go out on their stand by time, when they could be supping tea and knitting? Not likely! As you can imagine the 900 staff were universally unpopular.

When I was a one man driver, in the latter days of conductor operations, we used to do a trip from Bramhall in the morning rush hour. When we got closer to Stockport the bus was always packed to the seams and the extra rush hour bus, covered by the 900 staff always used to hang back and let the one man driver do all the work. Well, can’t expect our senior 900 staff to cover that busy run can we? And knitting won’t do itself will it?

I remember pulling into Mersey Square in Stockport with a bus bursting at the seams and the 900 bus pulling in behind me with about five people on board. I went back to that bus and told them in no uncertain terms they were out of order. The driver was about to say something when his clippie, Doris, the laziest conductress you ever met, pushed him aside and gave me a right mouthful about how I hadn’t been doing the job five minutes and how she and her driver had been at it since before I was born and well, I think you get the picture.

Now I have always believed in the interconnectedness of the universe, how one good deed will come back to you twofold and how those evil doers, as they used to call them in my old comic days, will eventually be punished. Anyway, one fine day it came to pass that I was asked to work my day off. I came in for my stand by duty and sat down with a cuppa and a slice of toast hoping for a nice relaxing read. After a while the tannoy called my name and I went over to the desk to see what was in store for me.

Doris, the laziest conductress in the world was there waiting for me. “Are you driver Higgins?” she bellowed.

“What’s it to you?” I replied in the same happy tone.

Well, it turned out that Karma, that magical mystery force of the universe had poked its nose into our life that day and her driver had called in sick and, guess what? I was her driver for the day. Well, when we came to do the Bramhall rush hour bus I caught up the packed one man bus, overtook it and we did most of the work coming into Stockport. That’s the way it should have been done with the workload, and the passengers split evenly between the two buses. When we got to Stockport our passengers piled off leaving our flustered conductress in a state of disarray and her cash bag full of coins. Her ticket machine had issued more tickets in an hour than it normally did in a week. She was looking a little peaky, if I remember correctly .

Perhaps that’s why she went sick for the rest of the shift!


You can read more about life as a bus conductor in my book ‘Floating In Space’. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!