18th April 2011
Race fans: a predictable bunch of people if ever there was one. All they want to do is fall in love – in love with the cars, the teams, the whole world of Formula 1. But most of all they want to love the stars, the men who sit in the gleaming machines and entertain billions of people at breakneck speeds on Sunday afternoons.
We've all got our favourites, past and present. You may admire the dusty heroes of yesteryear with their goggles and leather caps, sitting proud in cars devoid of all but the simplest of safety equipment. Perhaps you prefer the racers of the 1960s and ’70s? Pioneering times when men’s lives seemed expendable in the perilous pursuit of speed.
I'm an early to mid eighties man myself. Prost, Tambay, Patrese, Pironi and Arnoux. Never did like Piquet, and Villeneuve always looked like a hooligan in a car to me; sideways ain't fast.
Then of course came the enigma that was Ayrton Senna da Silva. I'd seen him race in junior formulae on British circuits so (like anyone else who had seen him) I had a fair idea of just what a talent this guy from Brazil possessed.
Once he made it to Formula 1, for me that was it. I wanted him to win every race and destroy the opposition – which of course he sometimes took to literal extremes.
When I think of how fortunate I've been to attend the grands prix I have, very few experiences come close to seeing Senna on a qualifying lap. No one else – and I mean no one – could invoke the feelings his craft in a race car would ignite. His unique cornering style: stab–stab–stabbing on the throttle pedal would signal his imminent arrival long before his Toleman, Lotus, McLaren or Williams hoved in to view.
For the photographers covering F1 races at the time there was a palpable feeling that either practice or qualifying hadn't really got underway until the Brazilian in the yellow helmet was on track.
So who's this year's Senna? Who's the driver you most admire? Which helmeted hero makes you shiver with his ability in a Formula 1 car?
Perhaps it's Sebastian Vettel? He's a nice guy, blindingly quick and almost charmingly child–like in his love of the sport.
Is Lewis Hamilton yer man? Single minded, serious, wannabe cool, and on his day unbeatable.
If you prefer the villain then surely Fernando Alonso is top of your list. Ruthless to frightening levels, politically astute and as quick as they come.
I have a friend who has a theory.
He believes – and I'm inclined to believe him – that one's favourite Formula 1 drivers are those one falls in love with when somewhere around the age of 16.
Try it. It works for me and a fair few of my friends and colleagues, too.
So if, as you read this blog, you’re in your mid-teens, make sure you enjoy F1 2011. The cars, the intrigue, the circuits, the races (both good and not so good), the rules and regulations and the political machinations. But most of all love the young men, the superstars of our sport, who race their shiny machines hard on a Sunday afternoon.
You'll never have it so good again.
Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2011 Chinese grand prix by clicking here.
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