Buttonholing Bernie – part two

Date published: February 10 2017

Having devised the new chicane that would help break up processional F1 races and negate Bernie’s need for ‘short cuts’ on the world’s race circuits (Monaco would have been an interesting one) the next task was to bring it to his attention.

We both worked in London, and I knew he had an office somewhere in Mayfair.  I also knew there was a pub he frequented with Max Mosley;  photographer Simon Clay  was always telling me he “kept on bumping into Bernie in this pub”.

For those who know Leon Griffiths’  television series ‘Minder’, that approach had a real Arthur Daley feel to it. But it also could have involved a lot of wasted time, ( though some might say that spending time in a pub is never wasted).

Having worked as Deputy Editor of ‘F1 Racing’ magazine for a short time under the influential Matt Bishop, who was now head of Press and PR at McLaren, I thought he might be able to pass on Mr. E’s e.mail address. We’d kept in touch over the years.

Matt’s response was “Bernie doesn’t do email, if you want to send anything, you have to do it by fax.”

This was a small glimpse into the analog world of Bernie. In the next few years there would be more and more media attention on the growing opportunities to stream F1 races onto a variety of devices, which Formula One Management (FOM) resolutely rebuffed.

Thinking about it over the intervening eight years, it’s actually a very crafty way of keeping the world at bay. Especially when the world wants you more than you want the world.

Armed with Bernie’s fax number, I distilled the idea onto a page of typescript, added the graphic, and pressed ‘send’.  I waited for the confirmation…yes, that came through.

The next big question was – would it ever be read, would it ever be answered? The jury was 50/50 on both.

Three days later, the receptionist at the publishers where I work came over clutching a piece of paper. She’d got a fax for me from Formula One Management. Bernie had handwritten a note: ‘Don’t worry – we’ve got lots of things planned for increasing overtaking in F1’

Well…at least I’d run it by him. And he had taken the courtesy to respond. The great plan for overtaking finally revealed itself as the Drag Reduction System (DRS) which we are now thoroughly familiar with and which to a large extent has freed up faster cars from following slower ones without the need for track changes whether it be short cuts or chicanes.

The interesting things is that the new man in charge of racing affairs under Liberty Media, Ross Brawn, is not a big fan of DRS and sees it as “artificial”. He wants a “purer” form of racing. What I would say to him is: have you ever considered a revolutionary new form of chicane inspired by the Tour de France…? Imagine placing it about 100 yards from the exit of the Maggotts/Becketts/Chapel complex on the Hangar Straight…

And I wonder if Matt Bishop’s got his fax number…?

Frank Hopkinson

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