FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
Enough of ancient rock music dear reader! The new year calls for some Python!
Arise Sir Lewis! Fully deserved and a delight to all right thinking folk! When the Monty's proclaimed they were the knights who say "Ni" I'm sure even their combined mighty intellects were not considering that one day a modern knight, on a search for a personal Holy Grail, would be the one to say "Knee" and lead Formula One on a quest for a soul, and moral compass.
What a year! What a way to end it... yet the river of constant change will flow ever onward to the ocean of eternal Krill, carrying us passengers on Starship Earth into the future at the rate of twenty-four hours per day regardless of our personal preferences, with one of us now rightly honoured for a remarkable focus on sporting achievement.
Lewis Hamilton, Knight of the Realm. How delightful!
Skipping back a few weeks to the early Middle Ages, one finds the concept of "Knight" being a title bestowing honour, and frequently land and social status, upon elite fighters with a high level of horsemanship. Medieval literature then burnished this respected concept with romantic notions intertwined with chivalry and the legends of Charlemagne and his Paladins in France, and King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (...who sing and dance when ‘ere they're able...).
So here we are a modest dozen or so century's worth of time further down the road, and while lands, and indentured farm folk, are no longer part of the deal, the name remains to bestow honour on the heroic. In particular knights of old would confirm their hero status via the horseback challenge of the joust.
Along with select other arts of war, such as javelin throwing, dressage, and archery, jousting was warfare placed within a framework of rules to make it a fraction less fatal most of the time, while still being a joyful crowd pleaser.
Today, all modern sport is formalised warfare, made, mostly, safe. So the martial tradition of heroics in combat has adjusted with ease to honouring mighty deeds on the sports fields, tracks, and rings of the planet.
One need look no further than a pre-COVID championship football match to find the masses baying for blood while urging their team to grind the evil folk on the opposing team into a fine powder. This powder to then be scattered to the four points of the compass while performing arcane victory dances and howling oaths and prayers in equal measure to the skies.
The heroes of this battlefield are carried shoulder high, praised, and while they are still not gifted peasants in servitude to perform their bidding, they are paid enough to comfortably foot the bill for a multitude of free agents to pander to their every need.
Then, on rare and special occasions, one of these modern warriors transcends the moment entering a blessed realm of remarkable achievement. Witnessing such grand performance the baying masses demand the newly identified hero be formally worshipped. Those with the power to bestow such honour reflect, and ponder. Possibly they consult oracles while making sacrifices at dark alters to arrive at a list of Worthy Heroes.
Thus are traditions founded, maintained, and respected over the immense passage of time. Heroes, being in the end but mortal, come and go. As do wars, sporting codes, and humour... other than The Pythons.
So to 2020. An Annus Crapola if ever there was one outside a world war. Yet within our declared battlefield of the track confines of Formula One circuits across the globe the year saw a hero of the moment glide with ethereal beauty, and divine ease ever closer to being an immortal.
Sir Stirling Moss won his first major race at the wheel of a Jaguar XK120 in the 1950 RAC Tourist Trophy, taking the chequered flag at the Dundrod circuit in Northern Ireland. He was finally honoured with a knighthood in the 2000 New Year's Honours List. Only a fifty year wait for such a well-deserved honour to mark Sir God's - as the late and much-missed Dr Mike Lawrence would have it - place in the flow of time. Thankfully that does not look like too long a wait when measured against the initial knights of the Middle Ages all those centuries ago, yet still a full half-century of politely waiting on the palace steps for word of honours arriving.
Sir Jackie Stewart first entered Formula One in 1965, winning his first race that same year, the Italian Grand Prix, in a V8 powered BRM P261. In 1971 he was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), with a knighthood following in 2001. So a flat-out sprint to his first honour only six years after his first win, while a 46 year wait for the knighthood, recognition of a lifetime dedicated to motor sport a full four years swifter than Sir Stirling.
Sir John (Jack) Brabham first drove during 1948 in a midget race car in Australia, winning on his third outing on a dirt oval track. After some hill climbs Sir Jack moved to track racing in 1951 and to Europe in 1955. He first drove in a Formula One race at the 1955 British Grand Prix. Refining the car over the course of the year before shipping it back to Australia and promptly winning the Australian Grand Prix.
Sir Jack's OBE came in 1966 (as did the antipodal Australian of the Year award, which as far as I'm aware is not open to card carrying Poms), rounding out with a Knight Bachelor in 1979, and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2008. A respectful eleven years to his first honour, yet a cheeky Australian sprint of only 24 years to his Knighthood. Comfortably outpacing both the English, and the Scots gentlemen.
At that point, until this New Year, we reach the end of the list of Knighted F1 drivers. So we move a fraction off the actual field of battle into the headquarters complex, where we find two of the finest commanding officers to ever embrace the fight.
Sir Francis (Frank) Williams fell in love with cars after a spirited ride in a friend's Jaguar XK150. He went on to found Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966. He married his beloved wife Virginia in 1974, becoming the proud father of three fine children, and within Formula One generated the record of nine Constructors' Championships, and seven Drivers' Championships between 1980, and 1997. Along the way amassing 114 race victories, 312 podiums, 128 pole positions, and 133 fastest laps.
Sir Frank was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1986, and knighted in 1999. In a fine show of respect he was also made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by France for his services to Renault engines. So a brisk twelve years from founding the team to first honours, and a similarly crisp, and chipper nineteen years from first championship to knighthood. Looks like HQ got organised on the honours front faster than the warriors behind the wheels!
Prior to newly honoured Sir Lewis, the last motor racing knighthood was that of Sir Patrick Head. Engineer elite to Sir Frank's organisational, and leadership powers, Patrick was a complete Master at Arms for Sir Frank. Such dedication and achievement resulted in Sir Patrick being rewarded in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours when he was appointed a Knight Bachelor. From first championship in 1980 to Knighthood thirty-five years later, a good mid-field run there from Sir Patrick.
Now we have.
A warrior elite who has triumphed so mightily, and often on his chosen field of battle that he has raced from first victory, the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix during his first Formula One season, to Knighthood in a flat-out gallop of a mere thirteen years. And he is still an active racer, paperwork with Toto notwithstanding.
Given the legends, and heroes listed above is a thirteen year charge to Knighthood a touch too lightning?
Would our jousting knights of the Middle Ages see and know the sporting greatness, and lion heart within Lewis? Would the early racers of the twentieth century feel the spirit within him? Would Sirs Moss, Stewart, and Brabham welcome him to the Roundtable as one of their own, nodding and smiling as Sir Lewis gazes back at them with that look of Eagles which they all share?
Would Sirs Frank, and Patrick view him as a worthy Paladin that they would gladly, clad in their armour, share with them the field of battle?
Would the Pythons opine that he was not the Messiah, rather he was a very naughty boy? Or, more likely, would he tell them that when it comes to Grails he has already got one (seven and counting indeed...)?
Sir Lewis is now the knight who takes a knee. May his legend transcend time in the same manner that even people not born when the Monty crew first uttered "Ni" can quote it as a rich item of modern social history.
A race record carved in stone for all time, and now an honour from the ages bestowed for all time too.
Long may Sir Lewis joust upon his chosen fields of battle, and long may he stand as the victor when his foes have been dismounted.
Fear him, honour him, and respect him, for another hero of the endless battlefields of time has been marked as a Knight of the Realm.
Note well when the Knight tells you to take a knee. For history has a way of marking the honour of heroes that shall not fade. And the Pythons have left history with enough rapier sharp humour to guard for all time against hyperbole and hubris winning the day, thus ensuring we balance our hero worship against the failings of being human.
Both Knee and Ni for Sir Lewis. Even after 2020 it simply pays... To always look on the bright side of life.
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here