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Holding On For A Hero

Saturday 16th August 2014

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Holding On For A Hero

Holding On For A Hero

F1 is short of heroes today. That's one of the verdicts of research into why F1 is losing its appeal. And you can kind of see why.

There have been two prominent films in the last year about F1, Senna and Rush, and they've both harked back to days when the sport was more dangerous. In the old days of F1, drivers were seriously injured and killed and the film-makers draw on that element of death, or risk of death, to make it a compelling drama.

(So don't expect a movie about the last race showdowns of: Hill vs Schumacher, or Hamilton vs Massa, or Vettel vs Alonso any time soon)

This was an age when drivers got into F1 in their early twenties or their mid-twenties, there was a staircase of formulae to go through first - F1600, F2000, F3, F2 or even F3000. Drivers arrived at the sport having lived a life. Nigel Mansell was married and worked as an aerospace engineer to fund his racing, his wife Roseanne helped him. On the way up through the junior formulae he broke vertebrae, suffered huge setbacks and at one time sold most of his possessions to fund his career.

James Hunt came from a more privileged background and lived life like the typical playboy driver - there's probably not much lifestyle overlap between him and public-school educated rich-boy Max Chilton. These days the notion of having a few beers and a fag before the race would send most of the elite corps of F1 driver trainers into paroxysms of anxiety.

Kimi Raikkonen's seen as a wild and hedonistic spirit because he likes a few beers afterwards.

Today, drivers have a junior career in karting, do a couple of seasons in single-seaters, and then, hey presto, they're launched into F1 at the age of 19, 20 or 21. As we can hear from the race engineers throughout the races - they're heavily monitored from the pitwall and told what to do, where to brake, where to change up, where they're losing time on their more experienced team-mate etc.

It's difficult to have heroes with acne.

Tuition from the pitwall is one of the big debates that is going to have to be addressed by F1 going forward. Such is the complexity of the inputs that can now be applied to the car through the steering wheel, engineers can adjust - via the driver - thousands of different settings on the car. Working remotely in the back of the garages or via a datalink back at the team factories thousands of miles away they are, to the drivers, what the Minions are to 'Gru' in Despicable Me.

They are particularly good at evening out the difference in performance between team-mates when one has a speed advantage. Provided the team-mates have roughly the same set-up they can advise on line, on diff settings, on braking distances into corners. If one driver works out a way to make himself go quicker that information swiftly gets passed on to his team-mate. It's in the team's interests.

Drivers don't even have to work out when to change up any more, they just have to 'hit the beeps'.

So it's no surprise that drivers such as Kimi Raikkonen who get on team radio and say "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing" are appreciated by the fans. The rebels and renegades are thin on the ground these days. Kimi is not 'the iceman' he's actually quite grumpy during races, which is why we love him. "Yes, yes, yes, I'm doing that already!" It's a joy to hear.

Just as it's a joy to hear Lewis Hamilton not moving over for a team-mate who's been coached into a position to pass him, but can't.

Given all the aids to driving, the one area where drivers are still out on their own is passing other cars and getting through the traffic. It's interesting that Daniil Kvyat has had a phenomenal debut season for Toro Rosso, is incredibly quick, good at qualifying, but made a ham-fisted attempt at overtaking Sergio Perez in Germany and took his car out of the race.

Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button, Vettel and Ricciardo can all cut it when they need to pass cars, but the same can't necessarily be said for Nico Rosberg. He finds himself in the same position that Sebastian Vettel did when he had a car far superior to the rest of the field which he regularly put on pole. He was fine leading from the front, but could he make it battling from the back? Seb emphatically proved that he could, and this is one aspect of Rosberg's craft that needs demonstrating, but one he'll surely master.

The World Champions on the grid are all heroes who have proven that they have what it takes to hold their nerve over a season. But we need to see less reliance on the pitwall for how they run their races, everyone's races. Then they can really stand alongside the likes of Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Lauda and Senna in the pantheon of the greats - the men who had to do it all for themselves.

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