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.


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 –­u­la­tion/ 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.


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?


Pro­fes­sor Vic­tor Haight ap­pears cour­tesy of Bathurst – The Great Race mag­a­zine.

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