FROM THE LAB
I do feel rather privileged to have been invited to have my say in F1 Racing this month. It certainly makes a refreshing change from commenting on mere touring car racing. However, I fear that this may prove my first and only appearance in this magazine. I suspect that my editors will not be pleased with some of the content you are about to read, and that they will move swiftly to dismiss me as a consequence. So be it. As a man of science, I am primarily concerned with what is factual. If that causes offence or, as they say, ‘inconvenience’ to anyone, or that my editors would rather be rid of me than to stand and defend the principle of free speech they supposedly cherish so dearly, then that is a price I am prepared to pay.
THE FRUSTRATIONS OF FERNANDO
Formula 1 has always had plenty of prima donnas. And the more preening, the more selfimportant, the more out of touch with real life they are, the more we love them.
It is an interesting study of the human condition, the way we idolise these petulant young millionaires.
I mean, when one meets someone in real life displaying the kind of breathtaking arrogance one sees in the average F1 superstar, one immediately is drawn to terms such as ‘wanker’.
But F1 drivers can get away with such pomposity, precisely because they are so good. They are the men all other men wish to be: sublimely talented, brave, fabulously well paid and mostly domiciled in Monte Carlo, where they may choose at their leisure to entertain various supermodels, popular music artists and other sundry celebrities aboard their expensive yachts.
The soaring superciliousness of the average F1 driver is the singular characteristic that defines them: it is they who are the F1 stars, and the rest of us are not – it just wouldn’t be right if they didn’t thumb their noses at us mere plebs. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
But there is a limit. And this year Fernando Alonso has been pushing that limit hard.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little bit sick of Fernando. Yes, we do all get it that he is frustrated by the Honda’s power unit’s ongoing lack of performance, but do we really need to hear him whining like a spoiled child whose favourite toy has broken every time the power unit either fails or fails to deliver (which, let’s face it, is every race)?
Way to go to boost team morale, Fernando – all those hundreds of employees at McLaren and Honda, regular folk with salaries somewhat less than the reputed $40m you will earn this year, must feel so motivated to stay back at work just that little longer working on making your car faster after they hear you ridiculing the end result of their efforts every time you drive the car…
And for those members of the media – and I address this to the current editorial team here at F1 Racing, for they are fellow offenders – who comment with such jovial flippancy on the plight of Fernando in terms such as ‘Honda must take immediate action to fix the problem’, well, you people really need to sit down and take a good, hard look in the mirror.
I’m not going to explain the F1 power unit regulations here (you can read for yourself – www.fia.com/regulation/ category/110) except to say that, for the benefit of those who seem to not understand, as a technological exercise it’s not easy to develop the combined level of power and fuel efficiency that the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari have. If it were that simple, as they say, everyone would be doing it. So far Honda has fallen short, but I think we can safely assume that their engineers are not sitting around on their sun lounges. Anyone in the motorsport media blithely demanding that Honda do something to fix things (as if that hadn’t occurred to them before) isn’t all that far away from Fernando’s own special brand of petulance.
As for Alonso, by way of consoling himself, he might be reminded of what Frank Williams once said to Alan Jones, when Jonesey complained about the Williams FW07’s uncomfortable seat, that AJ might alleviate the problem by sitting on his wallet.
LETTERS AND NUMBERS
One of the many problems of the modern world is the propensity of people these days to come up with complicated solutions to simple problems. Let me give you an example:
I do not wish to read an instruction manual so that I may understand how to operate my new microwave oven. But its creators, presumably so self-satisfied with their efforts that they have deluded themselves into thinking their customers will actually share the same frenzied enthusiasm for the product
as they themselves, insist that I must, by designing it with a series of esoteric operating symbols in the microwave’s display panel. How about some simple explanatory words instead? Such as, I don’t know, maybe ‘OFF’ and ‘ON’?
As a man of science, I am familiar with the principle of how food is cooked in a microwave oven (it’s actually ingeniously simple: the water molecules in the food are vibrated at the atomic level by radio waves, thereby generating sufficient cooking heat). I just don’t know which funky little symbol I should press to make the process occur.
It’s not just kitchen appliances, either. This kind of young-person propeller-head design idiocy is now plaguing the world of motoring. Just the other day, the dean of the university asked for my assistance in operating his new European (German) luxury sedan. He assumed that with my interest in cars, I would be able to easily explain some of the vehicle’s simple functions, such as how to unlock the rear doors and open the bootlid.
My old FB Holden was a great car in its day, but it was not a patch on the professor’s shiny new uber-taxi. But I did not need to get the Holden owner’s manual out of the glovebox just so I could put my golf clubs in the boot.
I find this kind of thing irritating almost more than words (or symbols) can describe. What irks me even more is that the young people perpetrating these design atrocities in modern consumer products are giving science a bad name!
Not that motorsport isn’t afflicted by this peculiar modern malaise. I mean, I would have thought that a simple solution was all that was required to fix the problem of too-small, barelylegible racing numbers on Formula 1 cars. I mean, just make them bigger, and the problem is solved.
This has been a festering issue in F1 for a very long time. The phenomenon of the incredible disappearing racing numbers started in about 1980. It presumably has been driven by ‘commercial realities’. That is, the less space taken up by the numbers, the more left for sponsor signs.
I blame Bernie Ecclestone for this. It happened under Bernie’s watch.
Yes, I do know that racing numbers no longer serve any actual function, as race timing now is entirely electronic, and gone are the days of lap scorers identifying race numbers on cars as they flash past the timing tower. But it’s a tradition that’s worth keeping. I mean, when you watch a game of professional golf on TV, at the end you will see the players pause to fill in their golf score cards at the club house. We already know the result, but that’s not the point. It’s a golfing tradition; it’s part of the game. If the players don’t fill in their cards, they are disqualified.
I distinctly remember seeing a much younger Ecclestone racing in Formula 3 during my brief spell as a science student at Cambridge in the early 1950s (oh my Lord, those English girls!). Of course, as is well known, Bernie was no Stirling Moss, and he wisely hung up his helmet to instead pursue a career as a motor trader. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a racing guy.
As a racing guy, Bernie should have known better than to thumb his nose at the timehonoured motor racing tradition of racing numbers (and as you can see from the pic, there’s no mistaking the number on Bernie’s Cooper). So it’s ironic that it’s taken a bunch of bean counters and marketing executives (just what is ‘marketing’ anyway?) led by a former Rupert Murdoch underling to put things right.
Thanks to the intervention of these nonracing people, I can now watch a grand prix and be able to instantly recognise the number 5 Ferrari, rather than having to continually pause to ask my grandson what colour Vettel’s helmet is this weekend, so that I might have some chance of knowing whether the Ferrari I’m looking at is Sebastian’s or Kimi’s.
While I’m on the subject of TV, can anyone tell me why they insist on threeletter abbreviated names in the stats panels? I mean, this is the age of the huge highdefinition flat screen TV; it’s not as though we’re still watching on 10-inch black-andwhite sets. Surely there’s plenty of room for additional type (ie: the drivers’ ACTUAL NAMES) on the screen.
By the time I’ve figured out which threeletter abbreviation pertains to which driver, they’ve often taken the stats box down and I’m left none the wiser as to the race order.
And while I’m at it, can anyone explain to me how/why Max Verstappen was known last year as VES but this year is VER?
AS A RACING GUY, BERNIE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER THAN TO THUMB HIS NOSE AT THE TIME-HONOURED MOTOR RACING TRADITION OF RACING NUMBERS
Professor Victor Haight appears courtesy of Bathurst – The Great Race magazine.