Sunday, 12 October 2014

Here in my car...

With totally unnecessary apologies to Gary Numan for the post's title, I find myself relating very closely to the song Cars after yesterday switching back to four wheels.

Just like music, cars have been a long-term love of mine - cars themselves and motorsport in general, formula one in particular.

That said, and despite my new-found Rover (already a 'she'), it's been a tough week for all followers of formula one following the horrific Jules Bianchi crash in Suzuka last weekend.

The sport regularly features on the back pages of the national newspapers, but - fortunately - very seldom as a front page headline. This week has seen more column inches written than in the past twenty years when the last death in formula one, that of Ayrton Senna, stunned race-goers and the general public alike.

As happens when a tragic accident occurs there are calls for greater safety and actions have already been taken by the sport's governing body. There have already been conflicting suggestions from the drivers themselves and the commentator Martin Brundle has spoken eloquently about his own experiences of a very similar accident he suffered when he was behind the wheel. In practice there is little we can do but hope - pray if you are of that ilk - that Jules survives and recovers.

Safety levels in formula one have made the sport so much safer than when drivers used to die on a regular basis when I was a boy in the sixties - and yet the spectacle, the nerve-grinding fever, remains just as compelling (for the likes of me, at least).

I was fortunate to attend a secondary school with a board of governors chaired by the legendary - and remarkably amusing - Graham Hill. Fortunate also to be allowed to attend races at Brands Hatch and Silverstone where I met most of the drivers of the time (Emerson Fittipaldi even gave me a lift on his scooter!).I saw Emerson, Carlos Pace, a young (really) Jody Scheckter, Mr Hill, Niki Lauda, James Hunt, Jochen Mass, Carlos Reutemann, Lella Lombardi (the last woman to score a championship point - actually half a point), Ronnie Peterson, Tom Pryce and dozens more.

So many are now dead, although not all through racing exactly - I still remember the shock one Sunday
morning to learn that my favourite, Graham Hill, had died in an aircraft accident. A young star-to-be, Tony Brise, died alongside Hill - and it was just a few months after I'd had the privilege of interviewing both of them at Brands. You can probably imagine my joy when Graham's son, Damon (just a month older than me but a hundred times more talented behind a wheel), won the world championship in 1996. Hill junior's career will long be remembered for his tussles with Michael Schumacher, another driver who has suffered such a terrible injury since his retirement (

Ayrton Senna's death in Italy was the last terrible shock I received as a race fan - until last Sunday - but there have been so many accidents that could have resulted in far more serious outcomes. Contrary to the belief of some, it is not the crashes themselves that attract race fans, but it's the danger and the possibility of such accidents. No one who is a true fan of the sport would ever wish for such a thing and the sheer shock of what I felt seeing Bianchi's car cannot be overstated. Forza Jules, indeed.

Those who have never been to a race will not understand the power of the cars, even in their latest, smaller-engined, guise. A slow corner might be taken at fifty miles per hour and looks so pedestrian - but you try that in a road car! Or rather, don't you dare - you won't handle it.

I've just watched Lewis Hamilton win the inaugural Russian Grand Prix and extend his championship lead. Will he win the main prize? Probably/possibly, and I will cheer him all the way there. But do you realise it's now his eighth year in F1? Time flies almost as fast as his current drive.

And on that subject it's now thirty five years since I camped out at Brands Hatch with my then girlfriend, sneaking through the woods on the inside of the circuit so we weren't spotted - how times change. I can't sneak anymore, security is too tight anyway, and the days of girlfriends are long behind me...

The days of loving the sport continue though, even if the increasingly rare serious accidents still crop up from time to time.

There's three weeks before the next F1 race (in the USA), and I will no doubt spend much of the time enjoying my new second-hand car. It feels great to be capable of getting around again on my own (MS really can cramp the style), but I won't be trying to emulate Stirling Moss (even if I am looking increasingly like the eighty-five year old...).

Now, any suggestions for a name for her?

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