Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ayrton Senna and F1 today.

I used to be an F1 fanatic. From the age of 12 (when there were only 3 channels on TV and BBC2 dedicated Sunday afternoons to the Grand Prix races), I grew up to love the support along with the inane commentary of Murray Walker and his co-commentator James Hunt.
I was a keen fan of Nelson Piquet, and as he reached the end of his career, I started to follow a young upstart, another Brazilian named Ayrton Senna.

He quickly became my boy hood hero and I followed Senna avidly through his F1 career and his 3 championship titles. I even took up indoor karting under his inspiration. He raced the greats like Piquet, Prost and Schumacher and beat them all, but a fateful outing at Imola in 1994 saw Ayrton suffer a fatal crash. He had a poor start to the season that year, but led this race from the beginning. However, on lap 7, at a speed of over 300 kmh, Senna's Williams simply failed to turn into the Tamburello corner and he smashed into the barrier totally destroying the outside of the car. With new materials and technology, safety in Formula 1 had come a long way and the monocoque frame within which Senna was sitting actually saved his body from serious injury. Unfortunately, the cars front tyre ricocheted off the barrier and crushed Ayrton's head causing massive brain damage! He was announced dead a few hours later in hospital.

It was a sad weekend, and the world lost a great sportsman, and to me, the best driver that every lived. He mastery of tight courses and his legendary ability to drive in the rain will, and do, live on. A quiet man, he was great technically, a perfectionist and always supremely focussed. He wasn't in the sport for the money or the glamour. He was in it purely to be the fastest and the best in the world.

I lost interest in the sport that afternoon. Over the passing years I have tried to get back into it. I have followed it by it's results, but have not been inspired to spend weekend afternoons watching it. I even went to the inaugural Abu Dhabi race and took my son along to the trials to give him some exposure. It was a great father / son weekend. Shaan loved getting close to the cars and the noise and smell around a Formula 1 track cannot be matched ... but I still couldn't find excitement in the racing. To me, the sport had become too technical. I don't doubt the skill of the drivers, but I felt that the sport had become more "machine versus machine" instead of "man versus man". The cars are so sophisticated today (and for the past 10-15 years) that a dominant manufacturer can simply run away with the prize, at least that's what I believed until this weekend!

I wasn't planning it, but I had time on my hands and was channel surfing when I saw the Monaco race was on. Jensen Button was just pitting for a tyre change. 7 seconds to change 4 tyres! Perhaps I took this for granted when i was younger, but today I found that outstanding. Cross 10 seconds, and it's considered slow!

Button came out of the pit lane in 3rd place, and within a few laps was right behind the two front men ... Vettel and Alonso. Vettel on old tyres in first place. Alonso was right behind on slightly newer tyres and Button in 3rd place on fresh tyres. 15 laps to go and suddenly this was a race ... old school. It was riveting. 1.5 seconds separating the first three places. Would one driver make a wide turn and let another through? Would there be an over zealous overtaking manoeuvre that would take a driver (or two) out of the race? Each corner, schicane and straight was gripping. It was as it was when was a kid. I loved it. That old excitement was back! Sadly, an incident that occurred outside the top 3 caused the safety car to come out and the excitement ended prematurely.

Having been "out of touch", I don't know if I've been missing this for the past few years, or this was a one off incident, but this was enough to make me want to give watching the sport another chance.

Perhaps the timing my regained interest is fortuitous... I have just heard of a new movie being released next week called "Senna".

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