The bravest of the brave – Niki Lauda

Having finally gotten around to watching Rush this evening, I was reminded that the hero of the story is actually Niki Lauda.

It is a matter of record that Niki was world champion in 1975, ’77 and ’84.

Had we not already known of the events of 1976 season involving Lauda, one could be forgiven for thinking his role in the 1976 season was a work of pure fiction, yet alone the two world titles still to follow.

Niki’s refusal to succumb to the injuries he sustained at the nurburgring (a crash which looked almost certain to be a fatal event) was a miracle in itself.

Then coming back to Grand Prix racing 6 weeks later is an event that this author was too young to see first hand. However if one cannot find such a fightback inspirational then goodness knows what is.

And his 4th place finish at Monza on his comeback stands as probably THE standout drive in the history of F1 in my opinion. Because it should not have been possible – sheer bloody willpower and bravery beating medical science and the balance of probabilities.

But it is not the Monza race that I believe to be the single biggest act of bravery in ’76.

It was in fact his withdrawal from the race at the Japanese Grand Prix and the likely handing of the title to James Hunt – which showed what he’s made of. Knowing when live to fight another day – literally in that era.

Now I can stand on record as saying I have been critical of Lauda and certain events and actions in his involvement in F1 recently (indeed I believe he could probably start a fight in an empty room with his PR skills) – notably at Jaguar.

I cannot help but admire Mr Lauda. Indeed the events of 1976 serve as a reminder, that if you want something enough, you can make it happen.

And equally, that if you’re intelligent enough to know when to pick your battles, you can live to fight another day.

And maybe it is exactly this that has driven Robert Kubica onto his WRC2 title.

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Last years years “one lap nutcase” – this years potential team leader

It’s interesting to watch Romain Grosjean this year, in that he finally seems to be showing in F1, the ability that got him to F1. But he very nearly didn’t get the second chance..

It raises a key question to me – do young drivers get enough time to mature in F1?

Very few drivers get the golden opportunity that Lewis Hamilton got in jumping into F1 in a very top team, and far to many seem to have fallen by the wayside further down the grid.

Given the challenges of financing an F1 team – something I admire greatly in Marussia and Caterham – it’s little wonder I guess that opportunities are limited in the current environment unless you’ve got a bundle of cash.

So what can F1 do to support young drivers in their development? How about a junior F1 championship, where teams could use a 2 year old chassis and perhaps a slightly longer life engine from one of the manufacturers).

Or maybe allowing privateer teams to run a customer programme – it seems acceptable in other forms of Motorsport to have a works and a customer programme.

But of course some think the current back-markers should just pull out of the way when their favourite driver in a top team comes by.

My personal list of recent drivers I think had the calibre include Jaime Alguersuari and Bruno Senna. Ironically if Ross Brawn had gone Bruno in 2009 it could have gone very differently….

My F1 manifesto – Chapter 1 – Improved racing

Over the coming months, I’ll be writing a series of articles under the guise of “what if I was Bernie”

The main point of which will be to have people in and around F1 and top level Motorsport – on what changes would improve F1 for the better.

Before I start asking the people who actually know what they’re talking about, I thought I’d start with Chapter 1 of what I’m loosely phrasing as my F1 manifesto. The knowledgable contributors are coming up over the weeks, and interspersing that will be my ramblings.

Overtaking should be for big lads – get rid of push to pass

1992 remains the most exciting race I can remember. And not because it was full of amazing overtakes.

I remember the race more for the overtake that didn’t happen and the skill involved in stopping the overtake.

F1 is the pinnacle of single seater Motorsport, and the Senna Mansell tussle showed the very best of two fantastic drivers absolutely going at it. There was no outrage at the blocking, no accusations of reckless behaviour.

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F1 shouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake, it should be the place that the best racers find ways to get around slower cars – or not.

Which is why I have such reservations about the DRS system and the artificial boost to overtaking it produces.

I’m not against providing drivers with potential assistance, but it should come at a price. Who really wants to see cars passing in a defined passing zone – no thanks….

There are a number of things that could be done to reinstate a premium on overtaking skills.

> No more DRS – remove this artificial advantage and speed differential without any potential downside.

> Turbo boost flexibility – let teams play roulette with an engine in 2014. So if Ferrari want the Monza win, and are willing to jeopardise an engines life to do so (or a blown engine) – let them do it. Therefore you introduce the reward, but also a risk. And you mix it up a bit.

And if Lewis gets stuck behind a car, he can give it full boost and really have a bloody good go.

> Let backmarkers race – there should be a premium on overtaking skill, as there was years ago, no an automatic entitlement for quicker cars to get past. The number of times you see a backmarker seem to have to pull off into the marbles just so they aren’t seen to ‘spoil the show’ is incredible.

If you’re good enough to get to F1, you should be good enough to earn a place without being handed it on a plate.

> Remove mandated tyre usage in races – the compulsory use of both compounds is another artificial interference. A team should be able to pick how many tyres to use, when to use them and when not to.

Such a move would allow for the classic rabbit and hare scenario where someone could take a big risk on tyres and an extra stop and push really hard, whilst another could go for a 1 stopper. Therefore there is a natural speed differential in the strategy.

> Penalties for weaving – I’ve often wondered what Senna might have made of the current trend of not being allowed to place your car more than once. That great 1992 Monaco finish would not be allowed nowadays as Senna would have been reprimanded heavily for simply doing what is natural – defensive driving.

The driver in front uses every tactic he’s got to safely keep the other driver behind him.

And the guy behind tries every move he has to get past. And if he can’t, he shakes his competitors hand and tries again next week.

Surely it can actually be that simple in F1.

I’d be really interested to know your thoughts and ideas.

Chapter 2 coming up next week….

Winter Testing – F1s best kept secret

It’s been confirmed now that rather than testing at Circuit de Catalunya for 2014 the teams will jet off to Bahrain first the first and the final 2014 tests.

Now I’m sure the teams are happy to get a guarantee of 2 full tests with a guarantee of good weather for ’14 F1 testing, but there is another factor (often ignored) at play.

You see F1 testing offers the average fan by far the best opportunity to get closer to the action. Having been at the final Catalunya test this year, a Grand Prix weekend can’t compare (unless you’ve paid for hospitality/paddock club).

And in that respect it is F1s best kept secret…. which makes it such a huge shame for fans that they’ve moved it to a location that frankly it’s residents have slightly more to worry about.

I remember Peter Windsor commenting some time ago that F1 was missing a trick by not making more of F1 testing, and my experience was exactly the same.

Whilst twitter and other social media platforms are a great way of sharing information, F1 needs to focus on face to face interaction with fans.

Would be interested in others experiences and opinions….

Nico Hulkenberg – is it just me?

Is it just me or is Nico Hulkenberg – who I consider to be the standout driver not currently in a top tier team – looking likely he may be overlooked by another top team?

Now the above is a big claim to make, with many drivers flattering to decieve in junior formulae. So lets just look at some of the highlights of his career before he got to F1:

  • Karting > started aged ten (1997), winning the German junior karting championship and German karting championship in consecutive years
  • Formula BMW >  won the Formula BMW championship at the first time of asking in , and the world final, only to be stripped of it for some pretty questionable braking manoevres during a safety car period.
  • A1 GP >  stepped into the German team in 2006-07, dominating in his rookie season with 9 wins and the championship (more than 60 points ahead of Pastor Maldonado).
  • Formula 3 Euro series > taking 7 wins and the title in 2008.
  • GP2 > you guessed it. 2009 Champion

Now the intention of this blog is not to be stat heavy, but you’ll no doubt appreciate there are signs of real calibre here.

We all know the trials and tribulations, ups and downs of his time so far in F1, not least the pole for Williams and some genuine standout drives.

Now I can understand the Ferrari position in taking Kimi, who is still driven to win, still one of the very top guys in F1 and a very consistent performer.

But surely Nico Hulkenberg has done just as much as any other young driver to place himself in the shop window.

The plot thickens….

Having read some of the very insightful comments on twitter over the last couple of days from some top line drivers (Mark Webber and Alex Wurz to name but two) about driver height and weight it really asks some serious questions.

Yes, driver fitness and strength have been key drivers of performance in F1 for some time, but with the ’14 rules stressing technical teams to the limit on powertrain weight, I can’t help but worry for young Nico.

Should it be that driver weight and height has such a bearing on success or indeed even in getting a top drive? I don’t think so personally….

With Hamilton, VetteI, Kimi and Alonso all tied down, I can’t believe Lotus and McLaren are not knocking on the door of this guys manager.

In my humble opinion, McLaren could be missing out on their next World Champion if they don’t find a place for Nico.

F1 has always been heralded as a drivers championship, so lets hope someone somewhere remembers that when looking at minimum car weights.