A very good friend of mine has a theory. He’s researched it, he’s tested it, tried it untold times – and you know what, it works. Time and time again, whomever he asks, it delivers.
If - like me - you grew up obsessed, intoxicated and utterly in love with so much of what Formula 1 is all about, then you can do it too. Try my mate’s test for yourself. It goes like this...
Tell me, tell me your favourite F1 driver. Not the one who impressed you earlier this season, not the one who signed your programme a few weeks ago, no, the one who stands alone, atop your own personal podium, the driver who ignited passionate fires within your soul, who made you gasp in awe at his god-given ability to make a thoroughbred F1 machine do things you didn’t think possible.
Who is it? Who’s yer’ man?
Of course I have no idea, not a clue, dear reader, whose name you’ve just said, but I bet you one thing. I bet you were about 14 to 16 years old when you fell for your ultimate steering-wheel-spinning hero.
Our mid-teens, those formative years when life, love, rebellious spirits and so much more bombard one’s senses with an information overload as one tries - ever so hard - to think, do and behave like the adult we’d like to become.
It works for me. I was 14 but can remember it – all those summers past – as if it happened five minutes ago…
Standing at the bottom of Paddock Hill Bend on a scorching hot English July day, my father and I were watching the Saturday morning practice session for the 1982 British Grand Prix at the fabulous Brands Hatch circuit.
Studying intently - through the viewfinder of my Kodak Instamatic 25 - the lines taken by the gorgeous cars cascading down the steep descent of the Kent track’s first turn, I turned to my dad, no doubt looking slightly puzzled and a little disappointed, and questioned him: “Dad, why, why does Prost look so slow?”
“Ah, son, that’s the genius of the man,” came his calm and knowledgeable reply. And that was it. Right then and there, Saturday morning July 17th 1982, I fell hook, line and sinker for the little Frenchman in the yellow, white and black Renault. Short in stature, topped with curly dark hair and complete with a large and crooked nose, Alain Prost was an unlikely idol for a 14-year-old English boy, but anyone, anyone who could drive ‘that’ fast and make it look ‘that’ easy was going to be a hero of mine.
Later the same day, on other sections of track, my father continued my education on just how and why Prost was such a cut above. Economical with steering input, delicate on the throttle, beautifully timed silky-smooth gear changes, an endless flow of gorgeously calm yet mightily fast driving, swooshing his turbocharged Renault RE30B around the undulating topography of Britain’s finest circuit.
You may be able to tell a similar story, maybe not, but that’s mine.
Now the test has a second part, a probably more controversial one, but let’s try it anyway!
Who’s yer’ ‘pet tugger’? “Your what?” I hear you ask.
Well for every positive there’s always a negative. In the case of F1 I don’t mean someone you dislike for some on or off-track treachery, no, one’s ‘pet tugger’ is defined by a driver that you know is/was quick, but for some bizarre reason you just can’t see it.
Mine, mine has always been three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet. Of course - back in the day - the Brazilian racer hounded and often beat ‘my main man’ Alain, but that wasn’t really the point. I could see, respect, and obviously knew that he was quick, but his driving style, his character, his personality – hell, even his voice – all of them did nothing, absolutely nothing to light my fire.
Irrational I know, but a few years later my teenage opinion proved spot-on. With me now working as a photographer, at the 1989 Portuguese Grand Prix, Benetton driver Piquet reached from his cockpit and tried to break the flashgun – atop my camera – clean off. A tugger for sure!
So go on, take the test and travel back, way back.
Please now take a look at my gallery of pictures from the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix by clicking here.