As a bright eyed young thing back in the late 70s and early 80s looking up at the giant that my dad seemed to be as he took me through the gates of Brands Hatch or Silverstone, I distinctly remember looking at the tickets to the races and feeling a bit scared by one of the most prominent sentences written:
Motor racing is dangerous.
It used to terrify me, that sentence. Despite my dad being there and keeping me safe, it was loaded. They weren’t just talking about the possibility of danger for the drivers, they meant us, too. The crowd. There’s been a couple of occasions where I’ve felt the hot sting of gravel flung up against my cheek as an errant F1 car has come off track. It’s an eye-closing eye-opener, a distinct reminder that yes, you could get hurt here. Moreover of course, there’s the more immediate threat of danger that hangs over the drivers every single time they get into a car.
One of the traditions that my father and I had when it came to motor sport was our year-on-year attendance at the Easter Weekend meetings at the Thruxton circuit. I’d seen crashes live in front of me before, of course, in particular Jacques Laffite’s leg-breaker at Brands Hatch in 1986. A horrid crash, but not deadly. In 1992 though, that was to change as we took our seats at the entrance to the start-finish straight, on the exit of the Club chicane. Marcel Albers, a genuine talent in the Formula 3 series, was catching his teammate Elton Julian and tried to take him going into the chicane. As is always the risk (and so well known by IndyCar fans) and forever the greatest fear is when a following car hits the open rear wheel and is launched into the air. Such was the case for Albers on this occasion, and his machine cartwheeled to a sickening thud upside down, directly in front of me. The most horrific silence hangs amongst the crowd at moments like this. A creeping certainty that right in front of your eyes a young life has been snuffed out.
Fortunately incidences like this have become rarer and rarer in modern motor sport, but once again last weekend at the Le Mans 24 Hours we were so horrifically reminded of the sagacity of those words that so frightened me as a child. If you have been unaware, the highly experienced Danish driver, Allan Simonsen, sadly lost his life on the fourth lap of the race as he lost control of his Aston Martin on the wet kerbs and careened into the barriers at the exit of the Tetre Rouge corner. A tragedy indeed, and a particularly personal one for the victor of the race, nine-time winner and fellow Dane Tom Kristensen. A special mention to Simonsen’s family, who, when asked by the other Aston Martin teams whether they would like them to withdraw from the race, responded, “no, go out there and win it for Allan”.
On the subject of Le Mans, it was announced on Thursday that Mark Webber would be taking his widely anticipated leave of Formula One at the end of the season, swapping his Red Bull for a new career racing sportscars for Porsche. Much though the spikey, competitive Aussie and his forthright manner will be missed amongst the Formula One paddock, it feels like the right time for Mark to make this move. With his relationship with Vettel and some of the Red Bull hierarchy becoming more and more fractious, Webber will surely find a more peaceful existence within a series he flirted with for a while with Mercedes. Of course, though, this move opens up a plum seat at the all-conquering Red Bull team and odds-on favorite to replace the straight talking Aussie is the even more straight talking Finn, Kimi Raikkonen. It seems like a golden opportunity for Kimi to move into what will, with the genius of Adrian Newey behind the design, be a fantastically competitive car. Would it actually be the right move for him, though? Red Bull have always liked to portray themselves as soaked in ‘joie de vivre’, but that rebellious spirit that they began with has been gradually eroded at an exponential level to their success rate. Kimi would now walk into what is a highly politicized team, and a team centered around, and dominated by, Sebastien Vettel. Of all the drivers on the grid, Raikkonen is the least likely to be effected or bothered by this, but the reality is there’s a chance he could spend his time there following the exhaust pipes of the super-quick German. Kimi’s in a good place at Lotus – a competitive team that doesn’t place too many pressures on him, loves him, and allows him just to ‘get in and drive’ (a fairly dreadful TV advertisement for Renault not withstanding). My personal opinion? I’d think he should stay at Lotus and let RBR promote one of their junior team, Vergne or Ricciardo, to play second fiddle to Vettel. What would I like to see in a perfect world? Kimi to get in the Red Bull, get into Seb’s head, and add to his title he won at Ferrari.
It feels like an age since the last Grand Prix, so I’m delighted to see the circus head up to Northampton’s Silverstone circuit, and my home Grand Prix, this weekend. I can assure you, the weather here in England is a long way from sunny and settled, so there’s every chance of one of those chaotic, mixed up races we all so love. Lewis Hamilton has a track record of genuine pace around Silverstone, so will be one to watch. For the sake of the title, we need Vettel to have a poor weekend to allow Alonso and Raikkonen to make ground on him. He’s very, very quick in the wet though is young Seb, so if it looks as if I’m hedging my bets, that’s because I am. I have absolutely no idea who’s going to win this one. Just the way I like it…..
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