Still Got It!
Times change – I know it, you know it, we all know it.
A world terrified to offend, eager to apportion blame – but rarely to accept responsibility – all the while almost completely devoid of balance in any real sense of the word.
We see it in all walks of life, politics mainly, with big corporate business following closely behind.
Formula 1, as a major sporting brand, isn’t immune to the prevailing mood.
Team principals, their press and PR staff, the drivers, the engineers, corporate sponsors, governing bodies and commercial rights holders, et al, are all eager to avoid contentious, possibly offensive questions and their answers, which may spike the ire of the perpetually offended, self-righteous hordes so prevalent in our time.
This mindset manifests itself in many ways and perhaps none more so than with the current crop of F1 team principals. Generally likeable, upper-middle-aged men in sensible slacks, for the most part they toe the corporate line with non-offensive aplomb.
It wasn’t ever thus.
Enzo Ferrari, Ken Tyrrell, Colin Chapman, Ron Dennis, Frank Williams, Flavio Briatore, and of course Bernie Ecclestone, were maverick team bosses who told it like it was and held scant regard for those who didn’t like it!
Now they weren’t always accurate in what they said, and some were far from politically correct relative to our modern overly sensitive times, but when they spoke there was perhaps more honesty. I don’t mean – of course! – to suggest that the current crop of F1 team hierarchy are dishonest folk, and am fully aware that the sport’s leviathans of the past would all sell their souls for a faster car, more race wins and ever larger financial fortunes, but there was less sugar-coated, overly manipulated, desperately inoffensive, corporate-friendly, press-officer-filtered fluff to soften the message.
One of the areas where these men would almost never accept a compromise was in the drivers they chose to race their cars. Generally, quickest was best and we’ll deal with the difficult characters later…
Just take Ron Dennis as an example. Any man who can manage two of the greatest drivers that have ever competed on track, win untold grands prix and a plethora of world titles has to be respected and possibly admired. Ron jumped at the chance in late 1987 of securing the services of Ayrton Senna to race alongside his championship-winning resident superstar Alain Prost. Dennis put team performance and the ultimate pursuit of winning above all else.
Last Sunday at the Hungaroring, Fernando Alonso drove – as he mostly has done every race of his F1 career – like the champion he certainly is. In a McLaren car ‘powered’ by a woefully under-horsed Honda engine, the Spaniard thrashed his ride to a sixth-place finish, even posting the fastest lap of the race.
What Alonso did last Sunday cannot and should not be underestimated, but, sadly, it will probably make no difference.
Ferrari and Mercedes have race seat vacancies for 2018 but it’s likely nothing will change. F1’s current two top teams will likely stay with the ‘safe’ options and good-ambience driver pairings they currently enjoy.
Reports – if true – of Sebastian Vettel’s 2018 option of a Mercedes seat could upset the apple cart in monumental ways, but, very likely, it’s all a well-planned ruse, a high-stakes bargaining chip to channel more Fiat-Chrysler cash into Seb’s already overflowing, Swiss bank account!
Enzo, Ken, Colin, Ron, Frank, Flavio, and Bernie wouldn’t be messing about.
Fernando would already be signed…