DAMON HILL

WHY IT’S SO HARD TO STAND OUT IN F1

F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - DAMON HILL

Well, how was it for you? The sea­son I mean. Not a clas­sic, per­haps, but I think we can say that a star was re-set in the heav­ens where it right­fully be­longed. Lewis’s sea­son was pretty much un­trou­bled by me­chan­i­cal fail­ures, ac­ci­dents, po­lit­i­cal is­sues or un­due pres­sure from his team-mate. Sure, Nico stepped it up a notch in the clos­ing races, spurred, no doubt, by the st­ing of fin­ish­ing sec­ond and that hu­mil­i­at­ing cap-toss­ing in­ci­dent in the Austin green room. But we shall have to see whether a win­ter of snow­board­ing in the Rock­ies and celebrity par­ty­ing will re­store Hamil­ton’s en­thu­si­asm for another ti­tle tilt, go­ing for four against arch-neme­sis, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel. Three is nice al­right, but four is just that lit­tle bit ex­tra spe­cial. Hav­ing just the one, I am an F1 com­moner, by com­par­i­son. It blows my mind that a man can win seven cham­pi­onships, as Michael Schu­macher did: put that in your crash hel­met and smoke it.

Lest we for­get, it’s nearly two years since Michael’s life was changed for­ever. Right now I’m sure he would trade ev­ery cham­pi­onship to get back to a nor­mal life. But he’s still top of the tree and some way off be­ing top­pled. Which puts Fan­gio’s record – five ti­tles, 1951, then 54-57 – into sharp re­lief.

Imag­ine. Not Senna, not Prost, not Ste­wart, not Clark, not Fit­ti­paldi (I could go on, so I won’t) man­aged to beat Fan­gio’s record. Was rac­ing in the fifties less dan­ger­ous? Cer­tainly not. Were the cars more re­li­able? Not by a long chalk. Was the com­pe­ti­tion less in­tense? Hmmm… per­haps? Some sta­tis­tics to con­sider: There were al­most half as many peo­ple on the planet. Even fewer could ever con­tem­plate a life as a rac­ing driver, es­pe­cially a South Amer­i­can. We live in more af­flu­ent times, de­spite all we hear. More peo­ple in Europe and around the world fly in aero­planes, take for­eign hol­i­days and own cars. Last year, roughly 90 mil­lion ve­hi­cles were pro­duced glob­ally. In 1955 it was only a lit­tle over 10 mil­lion, and 70 per cent of those were in the USA. Amaz­ingly, though, at the Bri­tish Grand Prix of 1952, there were 35 en­trants for 32 places on the grid and 22 of them fin­ished the race. The start must have been bonkers! But there were only eight rounds in the cham­pi­onship then. Each sea­son now is al­most 2.5 times as long.

If F1 were a pyra­mid, the base would be at its widest right now. The logic goes that com­pe­ti­tion strength­ens the breed. I think it was Lo­tus founder Colin Chap­man who said that some­where in China was a driver bet­ter than Jim Clark – ex­cept that he’d never sat in a car. It must be true that if we in­crease the pool of ta­lent, the chances of find­ing two Fan­gios in­creases and the dif­fer­en­tial be­tween the very best de­creases. If the in­ter­net has proved any­thing, it is that one in­di­vid­ual is not so unique. Be­ing dif­fer­ent is get­ting harder. So, per­haps the value of be­ing first is greater now?

Com­par­ing driv­ers from dif­fer­ent eras is fun but some­what mean­ing­less. I tend to think that a cham­pi­onship to­day makes lower de­mands of courage. To­day’s driv­ers have to con­tend with dan­ger, of course they do, but not nearly as much as their Fan­gio-era fore­bears. The chances of a nasty, vi­o­lent, fiery death in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s was con­sid­er­ably greater than it is to­day. Thank the FIA for that.

Nowa­days the psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure comes from the busi­ness side, the press and ‘fame’. The mod­ern F1 driver is more wor­ried about his Twit­ter ac­count than his chances of sur­vival. And well he might be. For with­out it, his chances of keep­ing his seat are vastly di­min­ished. But to win to­day against a solid batch of proven world cham­pi­ons and grand prix win­ners (and with well-bud­geted GP2 driv­ers from na­tions des­per­ate for a slice of the ac­tion snap­ping at their heels), the pres­sure at the top is greater than ever. Per­haps we cut them less slack be­cause they ap­pear to have a more cushy job, with less risk to life and limb? Per­haps our ad­mi­ra­tion is di­min­ished?

As self-knowl­edge in­creases ex­po­nen­tially, bound­aries be­tween in­di­vid­u­als are eroded. Com­put­ers re­veal the smallest dif­fer­ences for all to see. What would Sir Stirling have given to see Fan­gio’s data? All he could do was hang onto his rear axle, lis­ten to the gear changes and watch his lines. Harder to get an edge when your team-mate can see all your tricks.

Nope. The mar­gins of dif­fer­en­tial to­day are mea­sur­able only in hun­dredths of a sec­ond per lap. It’s get­ting harder to stand out from the crowd. You need a whole sea­son to dis­cern the smallest dif­fer­ences. Don’t worry. Another one will be along, right af­ter the break…

“Be­ing dif­fer­ent is get­ting harder. So, per­haps the value of be­ing first is greater now?”

It’s tougher than ever to stand out in F1

Arch-ri­vals Lewis Hamil­ton and Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, hold three and four ti­tles re­spec­tively. Can Lewis make it four-all in 2016?

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