OllieF1
Are There Enough Food Fights In Formula One?

Are There Enough Food Fights In Formula One?

Remember the days when Gerhard Berger swapped Ayrton Senna’s passport photo with an explicit image? We’re told it caused quite a stir at the airport. Or perhaps you remember the days when Eddie Irvine would saunter through the paddock with a girl on each arm, a smug grin joining his ears? If you don’t you needn’t worry, these times have passed and there’s little point in being concerned about something you cannot control. But having been thinking about Formula One, it’s popularity and portrayed image through the media, I’m starting to change my mind when it comes to these antics. Allow me to explain…

I’ve never really liked Eddie Irvine. He blew his chance at the world championship and seemed content to just earn money from his job rather than pursue his ambitions like someone possessed. He would often speak up when I felt he should keep quiet and focus on racing. He was a jack-the-lad, and these folk don’t really attract me.

Similarly, I was relieved when Jacques Villeneuve finally bowed out of Formula One. I stand by my statement that I’ve made many times over; he only won the 1997 crown because Mercedes placed woefully unreliable engines in the back of Hakkinen’s and Coulthard’s McLarens. And Villeneuve too came across as arrogant and egotistical. A trait I don’t enjoy in a person unless they have really earned it. In my opinion, Villeneuve hadn’t earned it and when BMW finally decided to replace him with Kubica, I smiled.

Today though, I thought about how F1 might be seen to a new fan, perhaps someone who is getting ready to watch the sport for the very first time next weekend. And I’ve come a startling conclusion. Well, it was startling to me given my distaste for Irvine and Villeneuve-esque types. The conclusion? Formula One doesn’t have much of a personality anymore.

Maybe I’m just missing the roar of engines and the colour of the weekend, but I cannot help but feel I’ve judged too strongly. Irvine and Villeneuve did add to the sport; they added a bit of vibrancy, spice, maybe even controversy. Now, I am well aware that F1 doesn’t need anymore controversy at the moment and I’m actually hoping for a boring year of good ol’ racing. Perhaps though, it could be coloured a little more with, say, a water fight in the post race press conference? Or a food fight centered around a drivers birthday cake?

It is possible that these things still happen, after all, the teams and drivers have to let off steam every now and then. But if these antics do take place, I don’t see them as often as I used to. The blame, if indeed there is any, could arguably be placed at the feet of McLaren and Ferrari following the tense dramas of 2007. But that shouldn’t stop Adrian Sutil replying to a journalist’s “how are you?” with a “I’m alright, I got laid last night”.

Another person who needs to accept responsibility for the perceived lack of personality in the sport is Max Mosley. Not allowing drivers to perform donuts after races. Not allowing drivers to stop on the parade lap to pick up a flag. I’m actually surprised he allowed Michael Schumacher to wear a red wig and for Villeneuve to dye his hair. What next, ordering Alonso to get a short-back-and-sides every other weekend?

Am I going a bit mad here? I am well aware I’ve just typed a post that basically says there aren’t enough food fights in Formula One, but I hope that doesn’t constitute being locked away. I am curious though, am I alone in my thinking? Are there enough food fights in Formula One?

Oliver White

18 comments

  • Funnily enough, I was thinking a similar thing earlier on today. I was listening to the sport panel on Simon Mayo’s show on Radio 5 Live, and David Croft was on the panel talking about F1. They kept on mentioning how boring Lewis Hamilton is, and how he lacks personality. Simon Mayo even said he received a lot of emails complaining about a boring interview that Lewis Hamilton did on his programme promoting his autobiography.

    I thought, there are so many people in Britain who are starting to watch F1. And they are the type of people who care about personalities more than the racing. They must be so disappointed. The only colourful character on the grid is Kimi Raikkonen, and he tends to keep his mouth shut whenever there is a journalist around.

  • I was going to mention his drinking actually, but forgot to add it in. It seems as though a lot of drivers are quite normal away from the circuit. Kimi drinks, Heidfeld is apparently a real party-animal and Coulthard moonlights as a bit of a celebrity (although he’s slowed down a fair bit recently).

    But at the circuit, it’s just nothing. I think the last time somebody stepped out of turn was in 2006 when Kimi said (on live TV) he was taking a s**t when Schumacher received his prize, or something.

    I don’t want the show to turn into NASCAR, and I don’t want the sport to be catered entirely for readers of The Sun. But a bit of character wouldn’t go amiss.

    I’m going to bring one of the later Caption Contest photos forward to this Wednesday. It may not be the most appropriate image for the opening of the season, but it does epitomize F1 in the seventies and one particular driver who had more character than you could shake a stick at.

  • Another person who needs to accept responsibility for the perceived lack of personality in the sport is Max Mosley.

    Not allowing drivers to perform donuts after races. – Hang on, didn’t Kimi do this at Spa this year? 🙂

    Not allowing drivers to stop on the parade lap to pick up a flag. – Hang on, didn’t Felipe do this at Interlagos last year? 🙂

    Hmmm… 🙂

  • There is little chance of real personality shining through when we have reached a point where drivers change their helmet colours to fit in with their new team’s corporate livery.

    I remember Berger being interviewed in the early 90s and he said that Senna had just acquired a carbon fibre brief case that cost something like £1500. He asked Senna why he wanted such an expensive briefcase. Senna amongst other things said it was unbreakable so no-one could get into it. So Berger opened the door of the helicopter they were in and threw it out. Then landed to see if it had broken.

    I think the whole driver character issue comes down to perceived risk. While racing was seen as risky no-one was prepared to tell drivers how to behave. Similarly now drivers who are extrovert characters get filtered out before they reach F1 or those that make it are coached and presented as being more corporate than they really are.

    Of course this is not a new thing. We all like to believe that the best drivers make F1 and that in the past they always did. This could not be further from the truth. As an example investigate the story of Tommy Byrne. Byrne won the British F3 championship a year or maybe two before Senna. As champion he was offered a McLaren test and if reports are to belived McLaren were stunned by the pace and consistnecy he produced. You might think this would be enough to get a young driver signed to a test contract or at least a management contract. However as I understand it McLaren never spoke to Byrne again.

    The reason was he apparently turned up the worst for wear having been partying all night and instead of the entourage of advisers, lawyers etc young drivers now he had a barely dressed woman on each arm. Apparently he was not political atute and had a tendency to call a spade a &%$£@# shovel. You can see why he wouldn’t get on with Ron.

    Think about it. A young driver who was drunk, hadn’t slept surrounded by distraction and still managed to produce times that McLaren could not comprehend and he never sat in an F1 car again. Imagine what would have happened if they had signed him at that time and educated him. What would have happened to Prost when Renault fired him at the end of 83. Senna / Prost could have been Senna / Byrne.

  • There is no doubt that teams tend to prefer drivers to toe the corporate line as F1 becomes bigger and bigger business. To be allowed to express a personality, a driver has to be unquestionably too good to get rid of, as is the case with Kimi at Ferrari. And it takes time to achieve such status.

    The demands on drivers have also escalated to the point where they don’t have much time to themselves. They are professional sportsmen who are training when they’re not on track or testing or at some corporate do or other. Without time to think, it’s no wonder they don’t develop any personality worth speaking of (they are also so young that very little character has grown as yet). They do what they’re told and say what the PR man tells them to.

    You are quite right, Ollie, in thinking that this is F1’s loss. The public is much more robust in its tastes than ever given credit for and it loves a bit of controversy. Ultimately, the PR machine’s quest for uniformly bland representatives of the sport will backfire on it with falling viewing figures.

    The current state of play is most ably illustrated by Dave Richards’ recent comments – he is shocked that Frank Williams and Patrick Head are in F1 to go to motor racing, rather than to make money. ‘Nuff said.

  • While racing was seen as risky no-one was prepared to tell drivers how to behave. Similarly now drivers who are extrovert characters get filtered out before they reach F1 or those that make it are coached and presented as being more corporate than they really are.

    Very true, Steven. Thank you for sharing those anecdotes and taking the time to explain your views, it is appreciated.

    The Dave Richards line actually disgusted me. I couldn’t believe somebody would say that. I refreshed the page several times waiting for the typo to be corrected! But having said that, Richards was a character I admired when he was with Benetton and BAR. Always in front of the camera with a microphone and politely putting people in their place.

  • First time blogger for your site Ollie. But I had to respond to this.

    I agree that F1 needs spice from their drivers. At present they have interchangable faces. They, as a whole do not appear to have much of a personality at all.

    This is completely the fault of Max and Bernie. No regular race fan can get close to the drivers during a race weekend so we only know about them through the press. I remember a time when I would get first hand stories from someone who attended a race about a party that so and so was and he did this most incredible thing. We never hear that anymore. F1 wants to project an image that is too “straight arrow”. I do not appriciate it. It makes us as fans feel that we can not form our own opinion about who a driver really is. The FIA wants us to form “their opinion”. I am not saying that I like some of the things that guys like Irvine did years ago but I am sure these things still occur. For instance we know that Kimi likes a good party like the rest of us. We never hear what he does. I do not want gossip I would like a little more knowlege from the driver that I support of who he is. Remember these guys for the most part are still kids. Remember all the stupid things you did in your earyly 20’s. So I am sure there are stories out there and I would like a laugh or two during the season

  • Welcome openwheel, good to see you ’round these parts.

    It makes us as fans feel that we can not form our own opinion about who a driver really is. The FIA wants us to form “their opinion”.

    Agreed, the FIA does want us all to conform to their opinion. But I would also extend that and say the teams are just as bad as well. As hinted at in other comments, team bosses are keeping their drivers on very tight leashes these days, and that only adds to the dumbing-down of the sport’s personalities.

    Oh I can’t remember my early-twenties, I’m too old now… 😛

  • Yes I tend to think of the team bosses in the same regards as the FIA when it comes to the drivers actions. Everyone is to uptight about this corperate image stuff. I think they need to lighten up and do what Sutil did the night before his interview!!

  • Hehe, just in case there is confusion with anyone, I’ve never heard Adrian Sutil say anything like what I said in the post. I just used him and the phrase as an example. I’m sure Sutil “toes the corporate line” just like the others and keeps his private life to himself.

  • Good point about Dave Richards, Ollie – he is quite a character. But that highlights something else that is going on – team bosses tend to forget what they were like in their youth and expect drivers to be good little boys without thoughts of their own. Look at Gerhard Berger, one of the great characters of F1 when he was driving, but intolerant towards Scott Speed’s similarly light-hearted approach to life.

    In fact, the few remaining “big personalities” of F1 are the team bosses – flamboyant Flavio, Todt the grumpy toad, Big Bucks Mallya, PATRICK HEAD (shouted as Negative Camber does). It’s one law for the rich and another for the mere employees, I guess…

  • Clive with age we all tend to forget what we did in our youth. I have mates that call at least once a month to remind me!!

    There was an article in the Times that showed the physical training that a driver does today. Somehow I doubt that drivers of yesterday would have followed it.

    The money is so good and the competition for a seat is so strong today that the driver has to focus on his job first. I don’t like it but this is today’s reality of racing F1. toe the corperate line or die. Kinda like publish or perish (me thinks)

  • I’m in my early 20s and don’t get up to this sort of stuff (nightclubs and discos are too noisy, I don’t want to start dating yet and I find computers, reading and swimming more interesting anyway), but I doubt a random sample of 22 people my age would get 22 clones of me. Yet we are expected to believe that none of the F1 drivers (except the Red Bull/Toro Rosso lot) are into any form of clubbing or dancing, that only three or four of them possess a sense of humour and that about half of them have no hobbies at all (well, I’d believe the last one were it not for the end-of-season annuals…)

    This is all because F1 teams believe in the old, out-of-date model of PR. It used to be that making your product look like a plaster saint was the way to make it most attractive to people. The trouble is that it’s not realistic, so people eventually saw through the entire methodology. Now, enlightened companies show their products in the most positive version of they really are rather than making them something they cannot be. Unfortunately, teams haven’t cottoned on to this. Clive’s point about drivers being very young when put into the PR machine, and openwheel’s about the time constraints on drivers, are significant factors too).

    As for the team bosses/managers/senior workers replacing the drivers for the place where personalities can be found, that can be put down to age again (it’s usually the older ones which have the personality) and power allowing people the freedom to be themselves (a variation on another of Clive’s points).

  • This is all because F1 teams believe in the old, out-of-date model of PR. It used to be that making your product look like a plaster saint was the way to make it most attractive to people. The trouble is that it’s not realistic, so people eventually saw through the entire methodology. Now, enlightened companies show their products in the most positive version of they really are rather than making them something they cannot be. Unfortunately, teams haven’t cottoned on to this.

    I am not sure I agree with you Alianora. The companies that are sponsors are very very image concience. They would never like to see their product in any other light then as if it was through rose colored glasses. I think I need an example of what you mean. I still hold true to the fact that Madison Ave execs are like Lenin they believe that “the masses are asses”. Most adverts today are geared to a 5th grade education or less. They also expect that their representatives to toe the company line as if they were employees and technically they are. Here in the US during the 60’s athletes took a stand on issues. Mind you this was before the multi million dollar endorsement deals. I admired them for it even if I did not agree with them. Today you can not get an athlete to tell which presidential candidate they like. Not because they do not have a favorite. They just do not want any controvery to screw up an endorsement. So by the drivers acting the company men they ensure there endorsement dollars for years to come.

    by the way it is good to hear that there is another swimmer out there.

  • I thought Coulthard’s comments when he joined Red Bull were enlightening. He turned up for his first interview as a Red Bull driver unshaven and in a scruffy tee shirt. The interviewer asked why after all the years of appearing dressed to perfection and shaved to the point where his skin looked polished he suddenly appeared so casual. DC said that when he was with McLaren he had to consider how everything he said or did would play in all the countries and cultures that were involved in the McLaren team as sponsors etc and now he only had to worry about what one man thought. He went on to say that Mateschitz told him that if he woke up one morning and felt like dying his beard purple like Villeneuve to just go ahead and do it.

    I think part of the problem is that drivers have put so much into getting into F1 that they don’t want to risk upsetting their team, its engine supplier, its sponsors etc that they simply switch off their personality in public. Jackie Stewart has spoken at length about how to dress to meet a customer/sponsor. He says that you should always appear more conservative than the customer as that is less likely to cause offence. So following his advice racing drivers wrap their persona in a dark suit, white shirt and a dark tie.

    It appears that the loss of the privateer team where one man’s personality is all that mattered has had the follow on effect of homogenising drivers. Jordan drivers were never limited. Villeneuve was given free reign at Williams because Frank’s only requiremnet of a driver is that he can drive.

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