Andy Hollis · Thursday July 18, 2013
So, we’re at the start of another of these seemingly eternal three-week breaks between races. Yes, there’s the Young Driver’s Test occurring as we write/speak at Silverstone, taking place to ostensibly help Pirelli with tire development. They’re giving young, aspiring up-and-comers the chance to impress, too… such as… ummm… Kimi Raikkonen?
In other “but it’s not actually racing” news, our lord and master, Bernie Ecclestone has been indicted on a charge of bribery by a German prosecutor. The world watches on in anticipation, before the inevitable acquittal occurs. Money talks loudest in these cases.
Anyhow… the worst thing about these breaks is the constant pressure on writers to come up with new and interesting topics to entertain you with on these pages. Topics that aren’t being endlessly covered within the myriad selection you can find across the web or, indeed, written on paper. So with that in mind, I’m going to go back to use a subject that I can be pretty certain will be unique to Frontstretch this week. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…
Well, not specifically me, but moreover a brief foray into a few of the drivers that made me love this odd, political, ego-driven, occasionally spectacular, sometimes deathly boring sport that I love so very much. Here’s five drivers, throughout my life that have got me hooked to Formula One like no other form of motor racing.
1. Hans-Joachim Stuck
2 podiums in 74 Formula One starts from 1974-79
OK, so if we’re really playing by the rulebook, Hans-Joachim Stuck isn’t really known for his exploits in F1 (though he did, rather surprisingly compete in 74 races.) At 6 feet, 3 inches he was always too tall for the highly restrictive cockpits of the day. So what was he known for? His achievements, and moreover his style, in sports car events.
A two-time winner of Le Mans, and a monster of a competitor around the fearsome Nordschleife, “Stucky” holds a special place in my heart, serving also as the main driver of the team my father ran his sponsorship programme for. The much-loved, though not hugely successful, BASF BMW M1 Group C cars were the ones he ran to perfection (later to morph into a pair of beautiful, if again not massively fast, Ford Saubers again with BASF livery).
As a young man, watching Stuck, or the “Rainmaster” as he was known, steaming around the outside of Riccardo Patrese’s all-conquering Lancia around Paddock Bend… in the pouring rain… well, it’s the sort of thing that genuinely leaves a long-standing impression. Added to that, “Stucky” was (and still is) an utterly charming, funny, quite mad character.
The bug was started here.
2. Gilles Villeneuve
Six wins in 67 Formula One starts from 1977-82
There’s likely something of a pattern here in that I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of real racers. The brave rather than the calculating. The loonies rather than the “drive only fast enough to win” types.
Gilles was the very epitome of the racer. If you’re in any doubt, hunt down footage of his wheel-banging escapades at the 1979 French Grand Prix with Rene Arnoux. After the race, Gilles commented: “I tell you, that was really fun! I thought for sure we were going to get on our heads, you know, because when you start interlocking wheels it’s very easy for one car to climb over another.” This episode was 1979, remember; you won’t find too many drivers back then (or now) feeling that the concept of landing upside down was “fun.”
Thank you, Gilles, for getting me into F1.
3. Nelson Piquet
23 wins, three titles over 204 Formula One starts from 1978-91
Yes, I know, I know. However, let me justify myself. My support of Piquet was mainly due to two factors. Firstly, this fan attraction was before I let such intrusive concepts such as “personality” sway any decision-making as to whether I liked someone or not. When he comically tried to attack Eliseo Salazar after being barged off the road from the lead, during the 1982 German Grand Prix, I thought it was funny. That’s instead of my reaction now, which would be “what a wally.” Secondly, my elder brother was a huge fan of Keke Rosberg, so I needed to ally my support to someone who could compete with the extravagant Finn. So, Nelson it was.
Now I far, far prefer Keke, of course.
4. Ayrton Senna
41 wins, three titles over 161 Formula One starts from 1984-94
I don’t really need to explain this one, do I? I mean, really? Ayrton is one of those people that transcends fandom and appreciation. If you claim to love F1, but don’t appreciate Ayrton well… have a strong word with yourself.
He should be in everyone’s list.
5. Mika Hakkinen
Were you to ask me who my favourite ever driver was, I would be able to say Mika without a moment’s hesitation. I first encountered Mika when he was driving in F3 and came steaming through from the back of the field to take the lead and win on the last lap. “Now, there’s a rare talent” I thought at the time.
Clearly, I wasn’t alone. When Mika joined Lotus in 1991, my ongoing support was cemented. He fit nicely into my “racer” category, to the extent that when I went to Donington to watch Michael Andretti spin his McLaren at Redgrave Corner, right in front of me, I actually had a banner extolling the wisdom of having Mika in the car rather than the forlorn American. Ron Dennis agreed, and my joy was complete when Hakkinen outqualified the aforementioned Senna in the same car during his debut for McLaren the following year.
Like in any relationship, though, there are ups and downs. My radio alarm woke me midway through the news in 1995, with the anchor talking about how a driver had been taken to a hospital, after a crash in practice, in a coma. “I hope that’s not Mika,” I thought to myself, but was to be shocked and saddened when it became clear that it was. The next few days, as a fan, were awful as the news seemed to teeter toward the bad. Thankfully, Hakkinen, despite horrendous injuries (he still bears a lazy eye and a hearing issue as a result to this day) recovered well. In his first exploratory test since the accident, he broke the lap record at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.
Mika then went on to win two world championships and was pretty much the sole hope for all of us that clamoured for someone… anyone… to please stop that pesky German chap from winning everything! Indeed, Michael Schumacher to this day will claim that Mika was the driver he both most respected and feared during his time in F1. The two never really clashed. Michael wouldn’t have done it to him (a cheeky swerve at Spa notwithstanding. Mika gave him his comeuppance for that the next lap).
Since those heady days, I guess I’ve gotten older, and the concept of rabidly supporting a driver has gone a little bit past me now. Were I to pick a favourite from today’s crop, my media pass thrown to the side I’d plump for Raikkonen. I enjoy his style, plus I love his utter contempt for all the extracurricular nonsense that comes with the job. Most of all, though, I really just love his Finnishness…
A hearty KIITOS (Finnish for thank you) to all those above for lumbering me with this sometime inconvenient, but never unappreciated love. So, do tell – who were the drivers that hooked you in?
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