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A Matter of Opinion


The media is full of a spat between Lewis and Nico. One of the F1 para-sites invited its readers to take part in a poll to 'decide' whether Nico had deliberately ruined Lewis's chances of pole at Monaco, as if the opinion of couch potatoes counted for anything.

It does not matter what any of us think. The stewards saw the on-car data and made their decision.

I have no idea how things stand between the two Mercedes drivers who had been pals most of their lives. What I do know is history. What we are now seeing is amateur history. Hamilton and Rosberg are being compared to Prost and Senna.

If you want real rivalry you go back to the prewar Mercedes-Benz team. Luigi Fagioli hated Rudolf Caracciola and Manfred von Brauchitsch because of team orders. Fagioli twice got so frustrated that he abandoned a perfectly good car, once in the pits, once on the track so it was useless.

All three drivers hated their team-mate, Hermann Lang, because he was working class. It was as if a private had been allowed to dine in the Officers' Mess with no idea how to use a fish knife. It did not matter that, by 1939, Lang was the star of the team.

Caracciola persuaded Mercedes-Benz to give a drive to Louis Chiron in 1936; they were both shagging the same woman. Chiron turned down her proposals of marriage, but she eventually married Rudi.

Fagioli so hated Caracciola that he tried to kill him. After one race, he threw a tyre hammer at Rudi's head, who ducked just in time. Fagioli was escorted from the pit in tears.

That is what I call history.

Read some people and you would think that Tazio Nuvolari was the greatest driver of the prewar era. It's a slam dunk, except it ain't.

Italian opinion was divided between the cool, aristocratic, Achille Varzi and the small, wiry, peasant, Nuvolari. Fans took sides according to their preferences and prejudices. The two men appeared to be opposites, yet they were close friends.

Nuvolari and Varzi set up their own team for a while, but they soon felt that their rivalry was damaging their friendship, which they held more highly, so they went their separate ways. The media had them as being at each other's throats because that whipped up interest.

They played along with it, it meant they could negotiate better appearance money.

In Britain, in the 1950s, the media struck up Moss vs Hawthorn. Mike was the tall blond, often pictured with a pint in his hand and a pipe in his mouth. Stirling was the short, intense, professional. Each appealed to a different audience. They were never friends, but they were on friendly terms and understood the value of the media's story of their rivalry.

When the German teams entered Grand Prix racing in 1934, with Nazi backing, they were each allowed an Italian driver. Auto Union chose Varzi, Mercedes-Benz chose Luigi Fagioli, Nuvolari was left at home.

Nuvolari had announced his retirement, and was on a ship to America in 1938, when he received a cable asking him to join Auto Union. Varzi had become addicted to morphine and was out of it. Varzi had been shagging a team-mate's wife who had become addicted to morphine following a bad road accident.

Nuvolari was spectacular in the 1938 Donington GP and became idolised by the handful of British journalists from whom American writers, notably Ken W. Purdy, took their cue. A legend grew that Nuvolari was the undisputed king of prewar racing.



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1. Posted by Sean, 13/06/2014 20:48

"Regarding your challenge to find a flaw in "your" history, OK, I'll bite.

"Had all points scored in the World Championship counted, Prost would have won six titles to Senna's two. Fact."

Er, NOT a fact, actually, and it's disappointing to hear such a thing from an intellectual heavyweight in motorsports journalism. It's a complete piece of speculation, an *opinion* of the kind we get a deluge of every time Bernie throws out a proposal to, say, award the WDC to the driver with the most wins, or we speculate about how the current points structure would have "changed" things in past seasons.

The championships are fought, won and lost under a single set of rules, every year. Or at least, that's the general idea, Mr. Montezemolo allowing. Drivers, teams and officials all act, event by event and moment by moment, according to the rules which are in place - not some hypothetical alternate rules pulled out of an esteemed journalist's rear end. These rules all drive behaviours, and are designed to drive behaviours, through team structures, from design offices to race engineers to drivers. Many times we hear proposals to change the driving rules, or the points structure, on the explicit and assumed basis that they will drive different behaviours from the competitors. That's why, for example, a penalty points system for drivers, or rules about gaining an advantage from leaving the circuit, exist at all. If they didn't drive different behaviours, there would be no point in having them, and I rarely if ever hear the argument that rules changes are futile, because everyone is going to do what they are somehow pre-programmed to do.

Senna beat Prost in 1988 by scoring the most points under the rules that were in place at the time, using a points structure known to everyone in advance. Claiming that Prost *would* have won under a different system is assuming it's necessarily and self-evidently true that Senna and Prost would have displayed an identical propensity for risk, and behaved identically in all other respects, under a hypothetical system which would have been designed to reward risk and circumspection in a very different way. You are in no position to say, with any authority or certainty, what outcome would have ensued in such a hypothetical case, for the simple reason that an alternate-universe 1988 WDC was never fought out under such a set of rules.

No doubt some will say "ah, but Prost was a more circumspect driver, and Senna was more aggressive" and then extrapolate, which impressions were of course formed during the same battles, in which those attributes were on display under the rules that were in place - a circular argument. All we *know* is that Prost was unable to win as many races as Senna during their time together at McLaren, under a system which tended to reward race wins (14-11 to Senna) over second-place finishes (13-4 to Prost), and forgave some number of DNFs (11-5 to Senna).

In a related vein, I wonder whether it's a complete coincidence that the list of angelic drivers who "never cheated": Ascari, Brabham, Clark, Fangio, Moss, Nuvolari and Varzi, all happen to pre-date, say, the 1970s, whereas the ones who did: Prost, Schumacher and Senna, all post-date the same era (and sold us tobacco). "They don't make them like they used to" appears to be the refrain, but is it really the *drivers* who are of such inferior moral character these days, or is it the ratcheting of the level of competition and pressure to succeed, the size of the rewards, the safety of the cars, or some other factor? I do love your columns Mr. Lawrence, and the historical perspective they bring is, I think, quite important, but let's not lionize people to whom it would never have occurred to drive into another vehicle, in an era where the cars were fragile little fuel bombs and the circuits were lined with trees. I fear you will never again find a driver in F1 who can meet your high standards for moral and ethical virtuosity, because the world has changed and somebody invented video cameras and telemetry and hacking and many other ways of showing that drivers aren't all as squeaky clean as you thought they were. It seems they were all shagging each other's wives, after all."

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2. Posted by stoney, 13/06/2014 16:14

"Thanks for clarifying Leo :)"

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3. Posted by Leo, 11/06/2014 10:18

"Someone seems to disagree with my earlier statement. This is from Motorsport, October '98:

“I remember it very well. In the spring of 1984, the new Nürburgring was opened, and there was a celebrity race for Grand Prix drivers of the past and present, in Mercedes road cars. I was coming from Geneva to Frankfurt on a scheduled flight, and Ayrton was due to land half an hour before, so Gerd Kremer of Mercedes asked me if I would bring him to the track. On the way we chatted, and he was very pleasant. Then we got to the track, and practised the cars. I was on pole, with Ayrton second – after that he didn’t talk to me any more! It seemed funny at the time. Then in the race, I took the lead – and he pushed me off the track after half a lap. So that was a good start…”
(A. Prost talking to N. Roebuck)"

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4. Posted by airman1, 09/06/2014 5:48

""A fine piece, nice analyisis, with one exception, though, last portion, kinda falls out of the concept. What is the "verdict" on the three champions, as being "cheaters" has to do with a main intent of the article, aiming to comment on the "Lewis vs Nico" hype? On that note, we who have not competed, with such passion, for almost anything in our lives, before the hungry eyes of the public, cannot know how these men, driven by the same public, their teams, sponsors, media, and no less by their own giant egoes, felt about "cheating". To me cheating is a deliberate act, thought through in advance of any action, decided upon even before we commence with anything. That is cheating. What these guys did is to show us that they are very much of same flesh and blood, that they are just like you and I and that they can falter under presurre. Which they did. Nothing more. Does this mean that others do not cheat? Probably not. They just have not been caught yet. F1 is a world of cheaters, they just call it a "point of view" or "interpretation of the rules" excellent piece, good view on the true history of "feuds" and percieved status of F1 stars and legends. All in all when all of our stars fade, there is always Fangio.....""

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5. Posted by Dreadnaught, 06/06/2014 7:40

"Good article but don't entirely agree with your overall slant, you get a bit bilious towards the end. Think you should also mention Senna's Monaco drive where the win was "stolen" from him for partisan reasons.
I also was around long ago, probably before you, and whatever statistics you may quote I believe Senna was the dominant personality. His great drives were legion and will remain forever in the history of the sport. Prost was undoubtedly very fast but he was a points gatherer and was not good in the wet undoubtedly the acid test. Mansell was also very fast, his support was much more parochial and his character didn't translate very well. In their own way and time Moss and Hawthorn were more gentle examples of the first two characters. Moss's win at a very wet Siverstone in, I believe, the Daily Express Trophy early '60s, in a Cooper was truly great, a tail out drift round Woodcote every single lap when it was a proper corner and miles in front. Stewart's win at THE Nuburgring was in a similar league.
I digress. I hope you will apply the same stringency to all of today's "stars", not just the drivers, but I suspect libel laws will mean you have to pull your punches.
How about it ?"

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6. Posted by stoney, 05/06/2014 14:34

"Wikipedia somewhat disagrees with the assessment of Senna's performance at the Nurburgring.

It claims he qualified 12th and did indeed crash on the first lap, but not into Prost. Instead, into Keke Rosberg, Surer, Berger and Ghinzani. No mention is made of his practice performance.

Does Mike need to update Wikipedia?"

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7. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 04/06/2014 17:20

"Thank you for confirming my views of greatness as a champion, rather than just a "winning machine"."

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 04/06/2014 16:18

"Thoughtful provocative and well-argued piece. You make it very hard to disagree. Should (God forbid) Schumacher not recover I'm sure he'll be similarly and uncritically lionised by the mass media.

I was pleased to see that you have started the rehabilitation of Nigel Mansell as a genuine force to be reckoned with. After the "Our Nige" hysteria died-down (and possibly because of it) he seemed to be consigned to some nether-world of British F1 drivers.. It seemed for a long time that his considerable talents as a driver were less important than his Brummy accent and theatrical manner (crawling exhausted from the car etc....).

Ultimately we can never know who was the "greatest" as even in a shared era, drivers of similar talent rarely shared the same car. Senna, for all his faults, was charismatic in a sport where charisma was generally in short supply. For my money that's probably the reason for the hyperbole that surrounds his memory."

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9. Posted by blackdog, 04/06/2014 12:18

"Aitch, you have a point about the BAR fuel tank story. We can't really point the finger at Jenson. He drives it. However he is not responsible for the engineering layout or the technical director's somewhat optimistic interpretation of the weight rules.
You can't really say Williams, Mansell, Prost won their Championships because they cheated as a result of having bits on their cars that others did not have. Williams had loads of technology on their cars which was all perfectly legal. It wasn't Williams fault or problem if others were behind in the technology race, was it!
The Head designed FW07 ground effect car for the 1979 season was good. What transformed it, at a Silverstone test (I think), was a call from the factory suggesting that a sheet of aluminium should be fitted below the engine bay sealing it and thereby smoothing the airflow under the car and really improving the ground effect suction. The car was immediately about 1.5 seconds faster than anyone else, which caused a bit of a stir.
Is that cheating? No way. It is what Grand Prix motor racing used to be all about. Race engineering at it's very best. The good old days of Patrick Head when motor racing was proper.
Ffwd to 1994. Senna joins Williams and tragically predicts that the cars, now without the various banned driver aids, would be difficult and dangerous to drive. He rightly predicted that there could be serious accidents ahead.
How was the Benetton so fast off the line? You don't know? Really? They were using some sort of traction control and hiding it very well.
Did you ever stop to consider that if traction control and other driver aids had not been banned in '94, then we would probably not have lost Roland or Senna. They both might still be alive today. It's just a thought.
When the 2009 Honda was being designed and built, Brawn spoke to the other teams regarding the rules and a loophole concerning the idea of a double diffuser. The others ignored the idea. Brawn presented it to the FIA for approval which it got. It was declared perfectly legal. After the Honda withdrawal, Jenson had no team, no drive, nothing. It was the end.
A short while later he found himself, for the first time in his career, sitting in a rocket at the Barcelona test. It was fast. Considerably faster than his rivals. Is that cheating? Certainly not! It is just brilliant enginneering.
And anyway, you can find yourself in a very fast racing car, but you still have to race it and win, or get the points. From mid season on, Jenson had to really fight for his championship.
Lastly, I think we all know why Mercedes are winning and out classing the rest of the field.
They have an excellent chassis build by a huge team of first class engineers and as one would expect of Mercedes, they have built a fantastic turbo engine, really thinking outside the box, and everyone else has been left standing.
Are Mercedes cheating? The very idea is ridiculous. They have just done a fantastic job.
They also have two excellent extremely fast drivers, even if one of them does act like a bit of a girl sometimes, especially when she doesn't win.
Ask any driver or engineer from any era of motor racing, "What do you really want?" and I guarantee that they will all say the same thing "I want an unfair advantage!" Unfair doesn't mean illegal!
Gerhard Burger was asked who would be his ideal team mate. His reply "Someone who is 2 seconds a lap slower than me!"
I just want to drive a Maserati 250f.

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10. Posted by jfagan, 04/06/2014 9:50

"Lovely piece as always Mike. For myself I couldn't bear to go to the movie now Senna has been canonised. I used to buy his second hand tyres when we raced in FF2000 and he didn't appear to be no saint then. Good wheel tho'
I don't read DSJ - couldn't stand his attitude to JYS and I'm sick and tired of hearing about the Mille Miglia.
On a totally separate subject what do you know about this Haas bloke? Sounds a glass of brandy short of a decent shrimp cocktail to me. What in the name of anything made him think of setting up shop in Milan rather than UK? Apart from the hundreds of F1 related reasons why that's dumb what about the language barrier? I'll believe it when I see it. Would love to be proved wrong but a Nascar team setting up an F1 operation as a side show doesn't sound much of a runner to me. Still I assume Bernie's happy."

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11. Posted by Aitch, 04/06/2014 9:48

"I believe that Lewis Hamilton represents the very worst of Formula One. He projects a very arrogant and insincere image overall, and pouts when he gets anything other than pole position in qualifying. I remember Jenson Button in his earlier BAR days carrying a bit of an attitude around with him, but in later years he matured and became a very likeable driver and team leader, so maybe this is what Hamilton needs also, though Button's team also cheated in 2005, if I recall correctly.

I think that the subject of cheating and sporting conduct is open to interpretation, however. We could look at Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost in their championship-winning Williams cars and say, "well, they won everything because their cars had things on them that the other teams didn't" (Not that Footwork or Larrousse were ever going to worry the top teams). And we could look at the 1994 season and wonder to ourselves, "how can a Ford V8 powered Benetton be so fast off the line and in straight-line speed compared to a Renault V10 or Ferrari V12"? The same engine that Sauber used for the following season with little success. Ten years later, I still can't explain it.

Which brings us to 2014. How can the Mercedes F1 cars be so much faster than everyone else, and is there cause for suspicion of cheating here?"

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12. Posted by blackdog, 04/06/2014 8:00

I think we are talking about cheating and sporting conduct here. Let us not discuss in any great detail, Mr Hand of God Maradonna. Everyone knows what he did. I certainly don't hate him. Actually, I try not to think about him at all, other than to reaffirm my utter contempt. Like Schumacher, he was really really good, so why did he feel the need to cheat?
Schumacher cheated in 1994 by deliberately driving into Hill's Williams, thus clearly demonstrating then and in later years, that he was prepared to do anything in order to win. In order to be Champion.
Quite what value this has in his mind, and in those minds of his adoring fans, I can not begin to imagine.
You see, I just don't think like that.
In fact, I would very much prefer never to be champion, than to win like that.
It isn't a question of being British, or anything like that. It is merely a question of winning honestly. Winning with integrity.
Of being able to look at one's self in the mirror and know that you are a sportsman with everything that that should mean.
Lewis Hamilton, please take note!!!
Nelson Piquet was a very good driver and very likeable fellow. I met him a couple of times and he was also huge fun to be with.
But what you may not know, is that in the days before the current very strict parc ferme rules, mechanics were allowed to do things to cars after the race and before they were weighed. Brabham had, amongst other things, special light weight rear wings for the race, and other, somewhat heavier rear wings for the after race weighin. It is called cheating.
A rather unattractive side of Nelson was his habit of saying rather unpleasant things about Nigel and making extremely unpleasant comments about Nigel's dear wife. Most undignified, and dare I say, not the sign of a gentleman. Nigel put him firmly in his place where it mattered most. On the track, at Silverstone. Check it out on Youtube.
To the best of my knowledge, Nigel Mansell never cheated in his life. He just had balls the size of coconuts.
Likewise, if you know Frank Williams, or Patrick Head, you would know that it would never occur to them, for one instant, to cheat.
Sadly, the same can not be said of Benetton who, most people in the know, suspect, with very good reason, were continuing to use certain banned technologies on their cars during their Schumacher Glory Years!
How you behave. How you win, is every bit as important as the winning itself.
Lewis Hamilton, correct me if I am wrong, is British, and so am I.
His extremely immature, highly embarrassing and unsportsmanlike behaviour at McLaren, clear signs of which are again manifesting themselves at Mercedes, just serve to confirm the lack of proper values in some individuals.
There. Severe criticism of one of our very own. Happy now?

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13. Posted by Aitch, 03/06/2014 21:36

"I can never understand why, when great drivers of the 80's are mentioned in articles such as this, Nelson Piquet never gets the credit he deserves. This piece constantly references one-off former World Champion Nigel Mansell though, along with other British drivers, so I guess there's a degree of bias to the article. Piquet was a great rival of Mansell's in 1986 and 1987, but apparently the British sporting media can't give credit to someone who beats one of their own (see Schumacher-Hill from 1995, not 1994). Do they also still hate Maradonna for sins of the past? "

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14. Posted by VC10-1103, 03/06/2014 14:35

"Good article - I couldn't agree more with you penultimate paragraph - Schumacher particularly with the numerous stunts he pulled over the years "

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15. Posted by Leo, 03/06/2014 10:14

""New circuit, equal terms, Senna beat everyone." pushing race leader Prost off the track on lap 1..."

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