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The Fastest Of Them All

Whenever F1 fans get together, you can bet that the conversation will eventually turn to the subject of which driver was greatest of all. Years ago I read a short story that deals with this rather well and I am always reminded of it whenever such a discussion begins. I do not remember who wrote the story so I cannot give credit where it is due – but it was a long time ago so perhaps it will be sufficient that I put on record that the story isn’t mine. Anyway, here’s the basic outline of the tale:

It seems that there was a group of friends who were great fans of Grand Prix racing. They met often and enjoyed many long discussions on all aspects of the sport but things often became heated when the matter of the quickest driver arose – as it did often.

Nuvolari

The usual names were bandied about, Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Senna, Schumacher, but no final decision could ever be reached as each fan produced persuasive reasons as to why his choice must be the right one. Over the years, positions became entrenched and everyone knew the opinions and arguments of everyone else since they had heard them so often before. But nobody would concede defeat and the subject remained the one issue that was entirely deadlocked; yet they never gave up debating it, so determined were they that the matter be settled once and for all.

They were old men by the time they gathered together for the bus ride to Spa to see the Belgian Grand Prix. And, in a way, it was fitting that they should all be killed when the bus fell off a hillside in the Ardennes before they reached the circuit. Inseparable friends they had been in life and now, in death, the bond continued unbroken.

And so it was that they found themselves together again in heaven. St Peter had allowed them entry as a group and no-one was left behind. And, inevitably, the old subject came up again, undecided as it still was. Who was the fastest of all?

Even then, they were unable to reach agreement and things might have stayed that way for eternity if one of their number had not suggested settling the matter by asking the Boss, the Big G, who was reputed to know all things. Elated that they would finally know the truth and the controversy be settled forever, they proceeded to the Big House to ask their question.

The Boss was in residence and expressed Himself happy to answer anything they should ask. They explained the problem (not omitting mention of each one’s preference to ensure that he not be forgotten) and finished with the question that had dominated their lives – who was the fastest driver of all time?

The Boss smiled and answered immediately. “Heinz Hopflinger,” He announced with certainty.

The friends stared at Him and each other in complete perplexity. “Heinz Hopflinger?” ventured the bravest of them. “But I’ve never heard of him. How could that be?”

The Boss smiled again. “Oh, it was Heinz all right. I ought to know – I made him. He was a shepherd in Lichtenstein all his life and never actually saw a motor vehicle, let alone a racing car. But, if they had put him in one, he would have beaten all those you mentioned by a mile…”

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All Eyes on BMW

With Nick Heidfeld going fastest on the second day of testing in Bahrain, BMW continues to look the most likely team to upset the status quo of previous years. Consistently quick and now seemingly reliable, the F1.07 is obviously very good and team manager, Mario Theissen is having to work hard to keep the hype at a reasonable level, insisting that they are not yet in a position to challenge for the championship.

It is a sensible approach to the season; far better to exceed expectations in the actual races than to underperform after having set your sights too high. If the car races as well as it has tested, the results will do the talking for the team.

The big question mark must be over BMW’s choice of drivers. Heidfeld is certainly quick on occasion but can he maintain the speed throughout a full season? I cast doubt about Nick’s motivation in an earlier post and it remains to be seen whether he can prove me wrong.

And Robert Kubica is still an unknown quantity, raising hopes with his few race performances last year but not quite as quick as his teammate in testing. He’s an ugly blighter too but that never seemed to hold back Michael Schumacher.

In fact, a part of his looks that he shares with Michael and some other supreme sportsmen is that his eyes are too close together. Don’t laugh – this trait appears again and again in top athletes and might be a very visible sign of potential sporting prowess. Think of Bjorn Borg’s near-squint and Jochen Rindt.

Faces

Well, okay, I mention this very tongue-in-cheek but it might be an interesting area for scientists to investigate – probably a more useful field of endeavor than chasing polar bears around the Arctic. And it does remind me that, in the sixties, there was a scientific study of F1 drivers to see whether they had anything in common that was different from the normal run of humanity.

They measured and tested and experimented but, in the end, could come up with only one difference: blink rate. It seems that you and I and most of humanity blink about four times a minute – but F1 drivers blink only about once every two minutes. Which may have something to do with levels of concentration but also shows that it’s all in the eyes.

With further investigation of this phenomenon, they might even be able to devise a test to see whether a driver will make it into the big time. That could put a stop to the usual ladder of karts, Formula Renault, F3, GP2 and so on, meaning that F1 could get them even younger.

Hmmm, on second thoughts, forget I ever said this…

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Hakkinen to McLaren?

So Ferrari gets Michael Schumacher in an advisory role and, not to be outdone, McLaren is considering taking on Mika Hakkinen in a similar capacity. That would be quite appropriate since they were rivals on the track and Michael considers Mika the toughest opponent he ever faced.

Mika

Mika Hakkinen

I wonder for how long this new trend for ex-drivers as advisors will continue, however. Michael always looked the obvious candidate for such a job at Ferrari, thanks to his team-building abilities and motivating skills. But Mika seemed a very different sort, a pure racer without Michael’s cold calculation and insistence that everything be done his way. To me, he looks less suited to the position suggested at McLaren and would probably be better in some sort of public relations role. Everyone loves Mika, after all.

The idea of jobs for veterans has its appeal, even so. Imagine Gerhard Berger employing Jacques Villeneuve as Toro Rosso’s unofficial mouthpiece – Jacques would be happy being able to agitate everyone with outrageous statements and Gerhard would have a great laugh, being the practical joker that he is. Juan Pablo Montoya could be taken on by Super Aguri as a balance for their eternal Japanese optimism – and he could carry on biting off the heads of newsmen.

We could even extend the concept and replace Max Mosley with Alessandro Zanardi, thereby changing the face of the FIA from grim dictator to open and friendly. And he would be a constant reminder to everyone of the dangers of swapping to American oval racing. Damon Hill could be made lifetime president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association and continue his quest to be taken seriously.

Johnny Herbert would be the obvious choice for organizer of the FIA awards ceremony at the end of the year – that would be a real knees-up, instead of the pompous round of self-congratulatory speeches of old. And Heinz Harald Frentzen could be employed as his sidekick, never saying anything but smiling, smiling, smiling.

But most of all, I’d like to cheat a little and have Bernie Ecclestone replaced by a non-driver: Murray Walker. I can see it now…

“Of course you can have a Grand Prix… No, wait a minute, where did you say you were from? Brunei? Well, yes, I think we can manage that… Ummm, where is Brunei anyway?”

“My bet for champion next year? Oh that has to be Kimi Alonso, without a doubt. Or maybe Jenson Hamilton – after all, you just can’t rule out those Renaults, you know…”

Well, a little confusion can go a long way in any sport.

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