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Our Nige Takes the Test

It being April Fools Day, one has to be a bit wary of sensational stories on the net. But here’s a bit of fun that you can take as true – a Top Gear interview with Nigel Mansell and his lap on their test circuit to see how he measures up against other F1 drivers previously tested.

Our Nige

Our Nige and his best mate, Nelson

I was going to call him “Birmingham’s most famous son” but then it occurred to me that he might not be – maybe there is a Brummie I haven’t thought of. Tolkien lived part of his life in or near Birmingham, for instance, but he wasn’t really a Brummie. There is always a chance that I have missed some celebrity who originated in Birmingham without my noticing (Ozzy Osborne? Nah, he can’t be more famous than Our Nige…). Any suggestions?

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Compound Confusion

So far, I have said nothing about the plan to make Bridgestone identify the two tire compounds to be used in races this year by having a blob of paint smeared on one or other of them. This is mainly because I really don’t understand the whole business.

Buddies

Best of buddies – Mansell and Piquet

For a start, what is the point of forcing the teams to use both compounds in each race? Since everyone must do this, it seems like a pathetic attempt to introduce more artificial strategy into racing – as if we didn’t have enough already. And it will very quickly become clear whether it is best to use the soft tires at the beginning of the race or the end and all the teams will react accordingly. Not much room for nail-biting stuff there.

Then there is the silly business of whether there should be visual indication of which compound each car is using. I am told that this will make things more exciting for the fans since they will be able to see at a glance which cars are on softs and which on hards. And everyone seems to agree that this is a great idea – or it appeared so until until this morning, when I read a post on Formula 1 Linksheaven that questions the motivation behind the sorry business. I particularly liked the following statement:

The casual fan does not give a damn what compound a driver is using. The CASUAL fan can’t tell whether it’s Liuzzi or Speed gone by in the Toro Rosso. So this wont enhance their enjoyment of a race. And the hardcore fans will likely not want their beloved sport to take a further step away from being the cut-throat world that it is.

I would go even farther and suggest that the dedicated fans too will not care once it comes down to it. They understand that these things even themselves out in the race and that any excitement created by them is artificial and temporary only. What really matters to us is that there be as little interference by regulation in the races as possible – the attraction of F1 is competition between the best drivers and cars in the world and there is no need to “spice up” the show with idiotic and pointless requirements inserted by a governing body obsessed with TV ratings and convinced that we are all so moronic that only a circus will keep us amused.

As an example of just how much we care about tires, consider the British GP of 1987. Everyone remembers it as the race in which Nigel Mansell passed Nelson Piquet to win after having been twenty seconds down; some even consider it to be Mansell’s greatest race. The fact that Mansell was so far behind because he had changed his tires late in the race and that Piquet’s tires were shot is quietly forgotten. In fact, all that race proved was that a car on new tires is quicker than one on worn ones – big revelation.

No, we don’t care about tires and any attempt to re-introduce interest after having ensured that there will be no competition between tire manufacturers is a matter of wanting to have your cake and eat it. There are arguments for and against tire wars in F1 but, having decided to standardize on one manufacturer, the FIA should leave it at that, instead of monkeying about with details in the hope of preserving a vestigial interest in tires.

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David Coulthard and Young Drivers

I see that David Coulthard thinks that Lewis Hamilton has been given his F1 chance too early. The Scottish veteran feels that a year testing for an F1 team would have been better experience for Hamilton, rather than having to be compared with his teammate, Fernando Alonso.

David

David Coulthard in the Red Bull RB2

There is some sense in what Coulthard is saying; there have been drivers who have been pushed too far, too soon (I think Jos Verstappen was one) and who never reach their potential as a result. But, equally, there have been others who rose to meet the challenge and did well.

Ironically, David himself was one of the latter. His chance came after Ayrton Senna’s death at Imola, when he was promoted from test to race driver in the Williams team. And, although he had to relinquish his seat a few times for the returning Nigel Mansell, he did well enough to beat “our Nige” to the Williams drive the following year.

Coulthard went on from there to become the solid, dependable driver he is today and he never looked to be out of his depth in F1. So it may be a bit unfair for him to doubt Hamilton’s ability to survive such an early entry to the sport.

I presume that it is Coulthard’s position as spokesman for the Grand Prix Drivers Association that is producing his recent cluster of controversial statements. If so, he is doing an excellent job, keeping the association in the eye of the press and not allowing issues to die a death through lack of attention. It may well be that he will prove better at handling the media than his waning reputation as a driver leads us to expect of him on the track.

But I think David could well be a surprise to us in 2007. If the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull is any good, it is entirely possible that Coulthard will make better use of it than Mark Webber, whose reputation for speed is not as badly dented as the Scot’s. In fact, this coming season is the make or break year for both of them and they know it. Webber is thoroughly fed up with having to compete in inferior machinery and has already made noises about giving up if the Red Bull is less than hoped and Coulthard is having to fend off rumors of retirement, being the new grand old man of F1 that he is. It will be the last stand of the old guard and I wish them well.

It’s that business of being compared to a very quick teammate that is the most telling point in Coulthard’s latest statement, however. If Hamilton can stay within a reasonable distance of Alonso, we will know that he has made it; if he cannot, it could easily turn the current expectations sour and lead to him following the usual route of such drivers – a career of second drives, occasional hopeful flashes intersperesed with long periods of mediocrity, and the soul-destroying task of trying to be noticed while driving machinery that is less and less competitive.

Which Coulthard should know all about. But, give him his due; he has not given up and is as eager for next season as a chance to prove himself as any young blade. I just hope that he’s wrong about Hamilton, however.

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A Bit of Fun

Today, F1 Racing-live dot com has a very good article on evolving safety measures at Grand Prix circuits. I was going to write a little post on how things have developed in this area and knew immediately that I would need some relevant photos. But then this happened:

I was looking for a photo of Monaco to show the impossibility of having runoff areas there when I came across the picture below. At first glance it seems quite normal but then one notices some strange things about it. Since when have ordinary members of the public been allowed to sit and watch the race from the inside of the Loews hairpin, for instance?

Loews

At which point, we see the Mercedes just ahead of the two Williams and presume that this is the pace car and there must have been an incident somewhere to bring it out. Only the Williams team has caught it as yet. But then we see the parked cars before the hairpin and realize that this cannot be a race; it’s a demonstration run of some kind.

The picture was so unusual that I had to include it in this article and, while I was doing that, I decided to have a bit of fun with it:

Loews and caption

Then, having made the guy in the pic ask the question, naturally I had to answer it with this:

Senna\'s lift

It is, of course, Mansell giving Senna a lift back to the pits after winning the British GP of many years ago. Senna’s car had broken down a long way from home and “Our Nige” took pity on him on his victory lap. I am pretty sure that this would not be allowed today, just as they have long banned the practice of picking up your national flag for display on your winning lap.

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