It has sometimes been easy to overlook Pascal Wehrlein’s performances for Manor towards the back of the pack this year, but not in Austria. The reigning DTM champion brilliantly qualified 12th and battled the Williams of Valtteri Bottas on his way to 10th and his first F1 career point. He can be forgiven for almost starting out of position…
It’s no fun any more,” they say. “Why can’t F1 be like the old days?” comes the refrain. “Why do the teams take themselves so seriously?” another, frequent lament.
Well I bring news, hot-foot from the F1 paddock: F1 is still fun, much of the time and plenty of teams – one in particular – make tremendous efforts to put a smile on the faces of the often truculent media corps.
The “one in particular” is Williams and it will probably come as little surprise to MN readers that this enduringly popular organisation has managed to maintain both a sense of perspective and a sense of humour throughout its long and storied F1 adventure.
The essentially phlegmatic character that runs through Williams is attributable largely to its founding partners – Sirs Frank and Patrick – and many a press room elder still gets misty-eyed when recalling these two in their pomp, running rings around the opposition on track, shooting from the hip off it. Manna for any journalist.
Things are a little more controlled these days, the buccaneering spirit somewhat tamed by the need to keep the corporate partners smiling. But the flame still burns at Williams, the twinkle in the eye that has sustained it through tragedy and triumph still sparkles.
And there can be no better evidence of this than the singular treat Williams offers to the predominantly (though not exclusively) British media who’ve attended its Austrian GP ‘pub night’ these past two years. Yes, for one night only (Friday), at the Austrian Grand Prix, Williams turns its paddock hospitality unit into… a pub, complete with swinging outdoor sign suspended from the balcony.
This inspired notion was dreamed up by the team’s marketing department ahead of the 2015 Austrian race. They realised that Austria’s being an emphatically rural grand prix – high in the hills, surrounded by mountain villages, with no obvious social centre of gravity – their motorhome represented a wonderful opportunity to bring media clans together and extend a little goodwill. ‘Soft power’, some might call it.
This being F1, however, a competitive element to proceedings was inevitable, hence the inclusion of a ‘quiz’, with the hacks gathered not merely to imbibe and chat – but to pit wits and win! One year ago the assembled teams were largely rag-tag and illprepared. This time around, carefully hand-picked powerhouses of knowledge were spliced together: a muso with a statto; a film geek with a news junkie.
A lively affair soon became boisterous and, with the added fuel of tequila shots for those unwilling to play by house rules (step forward NBC commentator Will Buxton) it descended (ascended?) rapidly to the Bacchanalian.
The golden rule of ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ prevents, alas, more detailed reporting, but suffice to say it’s not often you see a retired racing driver stand on a chair, pull down his trousers and ‘twerk’; neither is Claire Williams often known to blush.
More of the same next year, please. If we haven’t already been barred…
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