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Drivers must be the stars says Hembery

NEWS STORY
05/04/2015

We have long thought it odd - to put it mildly - that so much attention is focussed on celebrities who attend F1 races. You know, the multi-millionaire movie stars who reveal on the grid that they are long-time fans of the sport but have never actually attended a race before, or the 'actress', more famous for her love life, who breathlessly tells the TV commentator that she is looking forward to when the cars "take off"... referring to the start.

It was recently revealed that Bernie Ecclestone urged (then) Caterham boss Cyril Abiteboul to use the team's paddock passes to attract celebrities or glamorous ladies. Ironic that the FIA, in a reflection of the times, has banned the use of grid girls at WEC events.

When the major stars, we're talking Sinatra, Nicholson and the like, used to attend the big heavyweight fights, they were there as fans of the sport, attention remained fixed on the boxers. Sadly, F1 doesn't get it, the actors and singers are the stars, the drivers putting their lives on the line essentially bit-part players. After all, what got the Melbourne podium on the front of the world's press... the race, or the post-race podium interviews featuring the Terminator.

Pirelli Motorsport boss, Paul Hembery, is also concerned at the failure to recognise the drivers for the stars they are - or are meant to be - though he comes at the issue from a different angle.

"We have a sport which is very much dominated by technology," he told the Guardian. "But I'd like to see the drivers positioned so that they are the kings, the stars who people are following and looking up to.

"I'd like to see the drivers becoming the heroes," he continued. "The fans want a hero. They want an iconic person to follow. And they want to know that when driver X is winning he's actually making a difference.

"When people sit in a bar and watch Lewis Hamilton win a race they think great, but they also think that five other drivers in that Mercedes car could have done the same job, and that is a shame."

Hembery feels that F1 could learn much from the US, citing a Speedway event he attended in Las Vegas recently.

"The garages at the back of the pits had glass windows, so the fans were looking into the garages, and they also had a window which slid open at the back of the garage and the stars were giving autographs. This was an event that had 100,000 people, so people can't say more people go to F1.

"In NASCAR the driver is the king," he adds. "Even the guy at the bottom is a superstar with a multi-million dollar contract. I would love to see our drivers held in that esteem. In F1 the driver has to become an international superstar, like David Beckham. But we've got drivers who don't understand why it's crap to change a helmet every race, and moan and bitch about it."

Clearly a purist, the constant changes of helmet (who could he mean) particularly irks the Briton.

"Everyone knows an iconic driver's helmet, going back to Graham Hill and Ayrton Senna," he says. "It's part of their identity, because fans can't see them with their hats on. So it was a very good thing telling them to register a helmet design and keep with it."

Over the Malaysia GP weekend, Ecclestone put forward a number of suggestions as to how the sport might be spiced-up, including points for qualifying, artificially wet races, a championship for women and changes to the race weekend format.

"I thought qualifying on Friday night was a good idea," says Hembery, "so you can actually win something, and the promoters have something to sell. And maybe a sprint race on the Saturday, an extra product, so Saturday fans actually see a result and podium places.

"It's not for us to tell people what should change, and how it should change, but change is needed," he insists. "We're anxious to understand what's going to happen in 2017, when we (Pirelli) will be looking at a new contract. We'd like to see what the plan is. We are in the entertainment business. Some people get ruffled by that idea, but if we don't entertain people don't watch us, and then the sponsors won't come, and the cycle continues.

"The current business model is clearly not working for enough people. Change is needed and the current mechanism for change is very cumbersome and very slow. We've got too many people with different vested interests. Someone has got to put a marker in the ground and say this is it. We can't spend another year going round in circles trying to find the big compromise."

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Spindoctor, 08/04/2015 10:05

"One of the problems the drivers have is that in addition to driving & developing the cars, they have had the role of "Brand Ambassador" foisted upon them. Consequently out of the car they have increasingly become mere mouthpieces, walking billboards and general-purpose role-models for a variety of multinational corporations. The last thing Acme Inc. wants is for "its" drivers to go off-message, or, heaven forfend, offend anyone about anything.


The drivers, for the most part, come across largely as ciphers, because anything interesting they might have to say would probably not be acceptable to their sponsors. When we do get a rare glimpse of the person inside the helmet, the media and assorted "fans" are quick to pounce on any individual trait or "shortcomings".
Lewis Hamilton, for example, is lambasted both for being "robotic" and "over emotional". If I were him I'd stick mainly to the script ("Thanks to the guys, the sponsors, God etc.") too....

Finally we have the ludicrous canard, often bruited by the media, that modern F1 cars nearly "drive themselves" or that in the same car any one of 5 drivers could be WDC. The former assertion is so stupid as to require no response, but the latter simply isn't true.
Schumacher "tuned" not only his Ferrari, but also the team to the extent that nobody could make that car go faster than him. Alonso comprehensively outperformed both his car and team mates at Ferrari. Hamilton blitzed Alonso at McLaren, Ricciardo at RBR trounced Vettel last year. That's a few of the potentially famous 5 variously able\unable to better the competition in the "same car" with inconsistent results. Sort of deflates that theory I think.


"

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2. Posted by nealio, 07/04/2015 15:37

"First point is that technology can be very entertaining. Second point: In auto racing niether the car nor the driver is the hero, it's alway has been a combination of the two and it's a mistake to think you can change this.
Point Three: Fair competition is entertaining and the single tire supplier is one of the things damaging the "show.""

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3. Posted by TheBucketOfTruth, 06/04/2015 23:39

"I'd love to see some tire manufacturers come back into the sport and liven up the racing. The cars are very grip limited as it is with so much torque and such fragile tires, so it might make things a lot quicker and more exciting. One shouldn't argue against it for safety reasons as the cars are still some seconds off the pace from a decade ago."

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4. Posted by Red Baron, 06/04/2015 22:09

"F1 used to have the feel of gladiators fighting it out in the arena, but with today's ultra-safe circuits, cockpits that are designed for jockeys, and technology that makes the cars appear easy to drive, how can we possibly expect today's drivers to earn the same kind of hero 'star' status as drivers of the past?

In comparison, the only stars at the Isle of Man TT are the riders."

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5. Posted by Rock Doc, 06/04/2015 17:33

"Is this Perelli starting to come up with excuses for not signing on agin in 2017.

I would like to see the sport get back to multiple tyre makers. At least 2, hopefully more. "

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6. Posted by Alan, 06/04/2015 9:29

"why bother with F1 anyway (yawn) ............it's so..yesterday"

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7. Posted by imejl99, 06/04/2015 7:48

"Quote: "We have a sport which is very much dominated by technology"

As always. For me, as a fan of F1, it is always exciting if there is new great pairing. Like "five other drivers in that Mercedes" can not do the same job, same Lewis could not do the same job with five other cars. When you say Schumacher you think of Ferrari, not of Benetton. Hakkinen, McLaren. Mansell, Williams (Williams Renault, to be precise). Senna McLaren Honda. Prost McLaren. Vettel RedBull Renault...

F1 needs a serious challenger to that one dominant pair, not teammate but other pair, that situation makes great season, or era. Like, for example, Scumacher Hakkinen chasing."

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8. Posted by Joop deBruin, 06/04/2015 1:33

"I've always enjoyed the technical aspect of F1 racing, it's the pinnacle of automobile racing. The drivers are secondary. Sure, I liked Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, Mario Andretti, Phil Hill and many others, but I watched for the latest tech. Indy was cool when the STP turbine cats ran, CanAm when ground effects kicked in string with Jim Hall's Chaparral.

Focusing on drivers is like watching the f'ing Kardashians. Forget about it!"

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9. Posted by ape, 05/04/2015 21:49

"Funny , for the first time in my live i attended a Nascar race and yes it was that same one in Vegas too, after hearing so much for many years about Nascar popularity ... for me it was a big disappointment ..all look alike cars driving in a circle sooo boring. At the end i asked my neighbour "who won " the guy i didn't know either.
"

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10. Posted by RPrior, 05/04/2015 16:02

"I wonder what %age of fans think Pirelli is a positive influence on F1.
"

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11. Posted by VC10-1103, 05/04/2015 13:56

""The garages at the back of the pits had glass windows, so the fans were looking into the garages, and they also had a window which slid open at the back of the garage and the stars were giving autographs."

Now there's an idea -not! When I regularly went to races in the '70's & '80's there were pit walkabouts where the cars were just out of touch distance and the drivers would come out a sign autographs and chat. All this went when Bernie got full control."

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