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[Finished] Case #14: Today's drivers v yesteryear's


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#1 Rich

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Posted 12 April 2001 - 21:09

JayWay has brought to the Atlas F1 Court the case of current F1 drivers v those of yesteryear.

The history of Grand Prix racing is filled with legendary drivers, men who have inspired awe, admiration, respect and wonder decades after they had left the scene. As heroes, many have become icons synonymous with the bravery, skill, speed and sportsmanship that lifted them above their peers and secured for them an eternal place in the sport's history. They found their way into fans' hearts, where they have firmly remained despite (or perhaps because of) the passage of time.

Will today's dominant drivers occupy the same honoured place in history decades from now? And if not, why not? What has changed between 'then' and 'now'? The Prosecution will argue that today's drivers will occupy as prominent a place in history as those of any era. The Defence will argue that racing's 'Golden Era' is well and truly past, and that today's drivers will not occupy as prominent a place in racing history.

This hearing will be open from May 23rd to June 13th, and judgement will be delivered by June 20th. The residing judge is Rich.

Judge's Preamble

By 'today's drivers', I am referring to all those who raced after 1990. It's an arbitrary cutoff, but one that will serve the purposes of the case. 'Yesteryear's drivers' will then obviously be classified as any driver who retired from competitive racing before 1990, and going as far back as either side chooses.

There is obviously no clear 'right or wrong' in this case, only history will give us the correct answer years from now. As such, there was much debate about whether this case should get to Court or not. I have accepted the case on the understanding that the arguments will all be speculative and virtually impossible to judge. However, as with most other cases, the value lies in the arguments presented, not in the final verdict.

I believe that this case has the potential to provide fascinating and insightful argument on the merits and demerits of Grand Prix racing's most prominent figures, both historical and contemporary. I also believe that the case offers great scope for both sides to examine the evolution of professional sports and how the fans view those sports and their participants. As such, it becomes a largely philosophical argument - but one that will hopefully provide a wealth of information, particularly anecdotal information, to racing fans of all ages.

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#2 bira

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Posted 27 May 2001 - 00:50

This case has been suspended until a new date will be announced by the judge.

#3 Rich

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Posted 27 May 2001 - 01:07

My apologies, the Senna case was extended to provide more research time for the very detailed arguments which have been presented. I foresee that this case will be delayed by a week or so. I'll announce the new dates asap.

#4 Rich

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Posted 29 May 2001 - 23:58

This hearing will now start on Tuesday 5th June and run until Friday 22nd June.

#5 bobbo

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Posted 07 June 2001 - 19:18

If it would please the court:

I would like to raise the question, indeed the issue of whether or not current drivers CAN be compared to the "classic" or "old time" drivers.

While a case can be made that drivers from the 1980 to 1990 period may be compared to some degree due to similar equipment, relatively similar rules (except turbos, that is) and that a signficant number of each group have had overlapping careers, to compare, for instance, Ralf Schumacher in a BMW Williams at Monaco to, say, Moss in a Lotus at the same track appears to be absurd and ridiculous. The track has changed, the rules are barely comparable and the cars are similar in that they have 4 wheels, use gasoline (more or less!) have transmissions, steering wheels, etc.

Under these conditions, any comparison can be considered subjective at best, and irrelevant at worst.

Therefore, I would petition the Court to dismiss the case on these merits.

Respectfully Submitted,

Bobbo

#6 jimm

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Posted 07 June 2001 - 22:13

I reject part of the assumptions in the opening statement. I think the line should be drawn along where there are real differences in the way the drivers had to race, what they had to race and where they had to race. I submit that there should be 3 groups of drivers.

Group 1: Drivers that raced prior to car sponsorship. This is before the teams had the kind of money that sponsor's bring and when alot of the compitition were guys not really racing with money as a concern. At that time it was barely a professional series, at least as the modern view goes.

Group 2: Drivers that raced post sponsorship but before it reached the level of professionalism of today. I guess at the point were teams could no longer buy chassis and had to race thier own.

Group 3: everyone else.

The reason for the break up. Drivers in the earliest times were no doubt fast, brave and able to tame very difficult cars in very dangerous tracks but the fields were smaller, and a larger number of the drivers in the seats because they could afford it. In addition there were alot less races. If you were WDC you only had to keep it up for 7 to 10 races compared to 17. Another way of looking at it is if you got behind, you only had a few races to get it back.

Drivers from the point that the teams themselves were paid based on sponsors (today most of the money is generated this way with prise money but a fraction of the operating budget), the way drivers had to race and the demands on thier time and driving were different. Was the begining of the downforce era with the introduction of full wings and later ground effects. Was also the begining of feeder series where roadracing specialists were trained just for F1. The emergence of dedicated racetracks for F1 vs. the country road races.

Drivers after about 1981 or 82 were again different and I consider this the be the begining of the true modern F1. The teams built their own cars, Eccelstone took over and made it a truely professional series, it was the end of the era were most of the cars on the grid had the same engine/chassis combo (it was more like CART then) and the money began to rise to the level we see today. Also on a technical side, the drivers had (have to) be more able to interpret the computor data and work on that level with engineers that was not required before. Another way to look at it is that before this time the driver had to get all this info from the seat of his pants instead. All adds up to the same thing which is that it is different.

Each of these had very different demands on the driver for both development skills(driver's did not spend all winter testing), time demands (no sponsor commitments in the 50's), technical input, technical feel and feedback, money, driving styles (almost no one ever had to pit in the 60's and early 70's) and world wide exposure which adds presure.

#7 Don Capps

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Posted 11 June 2001 - 16:47

All,

In the week that this case has been open, nary a comment.

I am not certain if that indicates either a lack of interest, or that those who would be interested posting are on vacation. Or perhaps, there is another possible answer: there is no answer.

As Rich correctly points out in the preamble, there is a question being asked to which there cannot not a very well-defined answer:

There is obviously no clear 'right or wrong' in this case, only history will give us the correct answer years from now. As such, there was much debate about whether this case should get to Court or not. I have accepted the case on the understanding that the arguments will all be speculative and virtually impossible to judge.


There is also another factor at work here. When reading the following statement, think it over for a few minutes:

Will today's dominant drivers occupy the same honoured place in history decades from now? And if not, why not? What has changed between 'then' and 'now'? The Prosecution will argue that today's drivers will occupy as prominent a place in history as those of any era. The Defence will argue that racing's 'Golden Era' is well and truly past, and that today's drivers will not occupy as prominent a place in racing history.


In an era when drivers contesting the FIA F1 World Championship for Drivers focus exclusively on that series, this whole case becomes senseless. The current crop of drivers -- however and whoever you define them -- will be looked at a different light from those of the past. Regardless of their considerable talent and abilities, the very essence of the world in which they compete, will cause the Schumachers, Senna, Mansell, Prost, and others to occupy places in the pantheon of motor racing personalities that will differentiate them from those who preceded them.

It really has little to do with the drivers themselves, than the nature of the world in which they operate. F1 today is a radically different world than that of 1921 or 1931 or 1951 or 1961 or 1966 or 1971 or 1981. It is a closed ecosystem. The mores have chamged, if you will. It is no longer expected that drivers in F1 will participate in other forms of racing. The 1961 WDC, Phil Hill, drove sports cars in the WSCC as well as GP cars for Ferrari, plus other sports car races in North America. Even Jackie Stewart branched out a bit in 1971, but not much of the same can be said for Nelson Piquet in 1981.

One assumption is that GP/F1 racing is the Alpha and Omega of motor racing. To many it is. To others, such as myself, not really. It is one among many, albeit today one that has assumed the qualities of a neutron star.

Which is why I think that the stars of today will be mechandised into Super Stars -- as will their successors -- that will condemn those of the past to be relegated into relative -- if not real -- obscurity in the coming years. The span of time that the sport is concerned with will become more and more limited. Indeed, can any one easily name at least a majority of those on the grid for, say, the 1990 Canadian GP? To include the teams? I certainly can't.

I think that FIA has engineered a deliberate break from the past, much like that which NASCAR did with the introduction of R.J. Reynolds and the Winston Cup. Prior to 1971 is this vague, little covered period in NASCAR history. All the 'history' dates from the 1972 season. Something similar is happening to the FIA F1 series.

The FIA insists on 'F1' being the Name of the Game. I was a bit surprised when the term 'Grand Prix' racing was used. Perhaps it was a slip. Anyhow, it is inconceivable for the vast, vast majority of the current crop of F1 fans to fathom GP racing as it existed in the 1960s or earlier. Indeed, it often difficult for modern fans to comprehend the past of any branch of motor racing as it was conducted 25 or more years ago.

Pardon the rambling, but I think that there is no question that the modern crop of drivers will be remembered differently than those from The Past. By the time he retires, the FIA press flacks and the Yellow Press of Modern Racing Journalism will have Michael Schumacher proclaimed as Greater than Rosemayer, Fangio, Moss, Clark, and Stewart all rolled together. Until his successor comes along of course....

I think Jay had a valid point when he recommended this case to the Court. The chasm between the The Past and The Present is huge, but often ireelevenat since The Past is of little consequence to those in The Present. By 'The Past,' I mean more than a decade or so back. Today, three to five years seems to be the limit of what is defined as 'history.'

For what absolutely little it is worth -- which is very little indeed, a thought:

The truth is rarely pure, and never simple. Oscar Wilde

The truth in this case is that the issue is not that the drivers of today that are not on a par talent wise with those of the past -- many obviously are, it is how the FIA, the teams, the flacks, and the Press manipulates the images of the current crop of drivers. On that point, there is little doubt that much has changed.

Just a few disjointed thoughts of mine on the subject.

#8 Jaxs

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Posted 11 June 2001 - 23:26

Would it please the court to consider the following as relevant to the issue:

The basis for consideration of the qualities for the driver or drivers regardless to the time period or era that encapsulates their given talents. The ultimate quality must be vehicle control, be it wet or dry, and regardless of formula or vehicle size. I would also recommend the versatility or ability to adapt to any number or manner of vehicles should be a consideration.
The present day driver has, at his disposal, a much greater amount of time to practice, a greater selection of circuits on which to hone and develop the skills essential to achieve a much wider recognition and global appreciation of the required attributes.

Only when these factors are taken into consideration against his earlier counterparts can the enormous task of comparision be truly evaluated.

The modern Formula One driver is restricted to literally that, Formula One, the commercial Kart races and Ice racing have little or no relevance to the argument. The modern day, saloon car, rally driver,or Formula driver has became a specialist driver restricted to a very limited field of endeavour.

The earlier drivers could and did drive in a number of cars within a Formula One Grand Prix meeting, making the effort to please the fans with displays of unequalled car control across a range of vehicle that would never be allowed in todays 'specialists' races. The escape of todays drivers from the GP as soon as the vehicle retires is another reflection of lack of commitment.

The greater involvement and ability without the endless training epitomises the natural skill factor and rises above the ability of the 'Journeyman' driver to reach the heights within GP racing. The greater selection of formula racing cars demanded an mechanical understanding and skill missing from todays sterile racers. A brief list of the popular formulas of yesterdays drivers would include Formula One, Formula Two, Saloon car, sports-racers, Can-Am and Indy car that the leading drivers could and did participate in within a given season.

I would also submit that various polls are a distortion as the memory of and limited knowledge of earlier drivers by the younger fans will result in a mis-informed target poll.

The sublime ability to control and manipulate a number of racing cars must far out-weight the limited task of racing a single formula racing car.
I have avoided a litany of wins or drives as I believe the courts knowledge of the sport will under line the foregoing.

Respectfully,

Jaxs.



#9 Gareth

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Posted 12 June 2001 - 16:46

since 1990 the following drivers have raced:

Alain Prost:
4 WDC (second all time)
Highest No. of wins ever

Ayrton Senna:
3 WDC (the 'benchmark' No. for a great driver)
Highest No. of Pole Positions ever
a career cut short by death

Michael Schumacher:
3 WDC (possibly more to come, he could even equal Fangio)
He will almost certainly gain the highest ever No. of wins

Prost and Senna have acheived goals higher than any other in F1 history and Schumacher will probably do so also.

I would submitt that these drivers will be judged AS highly as those pre 1990.

Gareth

#10 Wolf

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 15:52

First of all, as our learned Scribe has pointed out- it is not a question whether todays drivers will be remebered alongside yesterdays racers, but will they rightfuly occupy that place... The modern trend is that history goes back as long as one's memory. Obviously, I will sit on bench for Defence.

I would like to introduce the term achievement, or merit of a result, if it pleases you. I'll back it up with two quotes (and an excerpt). I honestly don't see how could a blindingly fast lap in a 2001 specification F1 car on Nürburgring, as it is now, compare to blindingly fast lap in 1961 GP Lotus on ol' Nürburgring... Yes, the first one would be much faster, but it would take something more than skill to attempt the latter.

To go flat-out through a bend that is surrounded by a level lawn is one thing, but to go flat-out through a bend that has a stone wall on one side and a precipice on the other- that's an achievement.- Sir Stirling Moss, OBE

... What we try to do, we try to induce promoters to improve the circuits, make them safer, mainly for spectator. We do not advocate taking out trees, for instance, eliminating things that make for interest. We don't want 'spin-off' zones and that sort of thing... We accept the hazards, as at Monaco, of hitting a building or going over a drop; after all, it's no fun gambling for match-sticks.- Sir Stirling Moss, OBE, in capacity of GPDA Presidend

This is a scene in drivers meeting, forty years later...
Montoya (re. alledged brake-testing incident): "Do that again and I'll put you into the X#@&%$& wall."
Villeneuve: "I'll put you into the X#@&%$& trees."
Montoya: "X#@& you. You've already killed somebody this year."


One cannot but notice certain amount of pride, pride which comes with achievement, in first two quotes... As for last quote, judge for yourselves how long would those two last in era long gone, regardles what their future records will show.

#11 CVAndrw

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Posted 13 June 2001 - 18:40

Nary a comment? I’ll be pleased to step up:

May I be permitted to submit as evidence in support of my position that A RACING DRIVER IS A RACING DRIVER IS A RACING DRIVER Denis Jenkinson’s interview with Ayrton Senna “The Psychology of the Racing Driver”, as published in the 1990-91 Autocourse (which I believe meets our arbitrary cutoff date). I shall not even attempt to paraphrase, distill or otherwise rearticulate the many insights to be gleaned from this remarkable piece of classic journalism, but Jenks’ final comment might stand on its own:

“That was quite remarkable. It was like listening to Clark or Fangio twenty-five or thirty years ago. The basic requirements of a top Grand Prix driver have not changed and the motivation is still the same.
The natural instincts and the faculties you are born with still mark out the true ‘racer’, and they compete because they are born with this incredible competitive spirit and, above all, the will to win.”


The criteria, the trappings surrounding the work of a top driver have of course changed greatly over the decades, but I submit all is a matter of degree rather than essence. Poet Gabriele d’Annunzio sent Nuvolari a florid, congratulatory telegram after his 1932 Targa victory, citing ‘the great Imperator” (Il Duce?) and today you get your bedroom encounters and throat-lunging histrionics splashed all over The Sun, but hype is still hype. So is eye-hand coordination, reflex, anticipating well beyond the next corner and the ability to make constant, instantaneous, correct decisions under extreme pressure and physical stress. Do the many examples of extraordinary physical courage, bravery and driving through pain of the “legendary” era include Niki Lauda’s (certainly a “modern” driver by anyone’s standards) post-Nurburgring return, cited by Nigel Roebuck as the bravest act he’s ever witnessed? For that matter, much was made (at least in The Sun, again,) of Coulthard’s post-plane crash Spanish GP just a year ago. The advances in safety certainly have lessened the basic fear of physical contact- it’s true, a minor wheel bump isn’t likely to turn you into a fireball wrapped around a pine tree, but as at Melbourne this year it is likely to initiate forces analalogous, yes, again, more to a plane crash than a motorcycle endo, but maybe the ethical issues surrounding that would have belonged more appropriately to the “End of Sportsmanship” case?

It’s easy to dismiss Irvine as being in it for the chicks and the money, but then shall we discuss Von Trips, Moss and Piquet’s reputations as cocksmen and all those clapped-out, starting money sportscar appearances, non-championship cash cows and even, for God’s sake, the sainted Tasman Series? Drivers do in fact like to be compensated one way or another, even if they say (publicly) they’d do it for nothing (Senna again- remember his tweaking Mansell’s nose vis-à-vis Williams in 1992?)

Perhaps others can refute all this point by point, which I would hope after all is the object of this endeavour, but my hypothesis is that fifty years from now our heirs (at least mine) will in fact rate Nuvolari, Rosemeyer, Fangio, Moss, Clark, Senna and Schumacher (and, who’s next, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton?) within a tenth of each other, and most importantly, as the same sort of uniquely gifted human beings.

Believe it or not, these aren’t disjointed ramblings, I actually think about this stuff.


#12 Gareth

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Posted 15 June 2001 - 13:14

I would like to agree with everything CVAndrw states in his post. I would add that in my opinion every generation has it's talented human beings. Every so often 1 person will come along and stand head and shoulders above the rest e.g. Micheal Jordan, Pele, Tiger Woods? etc However, the rest can only be considered (assumed?) to be of roughly equal talent. Why should the 1970's (the decade in which today's drivers were born) out of however many million people born have a smaller number of talented people than the 1920's?

As CVAndrw says, a racing driver is a racing driver is a racing driver. We compare them against their own generation and see how well they dominated their peers to try and judge how well they would have faired against each other. The performances of Senna, Prost and Schumacher relative to their peers will put them (and deservedly put them) on a level with those great pre-1990 drivers.

As to Wolf's post, I would expect to see F1 get safer year on year. I do not believe that this will make future F1 drivers successively less deserving of a place in history.

Gareth

#13 mtl'78

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Posted 15 June 2001 - 19:13

This question goes to the root of what makes a good car racer.

What combination of skill, philosophy, experience and nerve is required to make a "great" driver?

I believe that to be a "great" driver, you must have the right dosage of all of these characteristics. But just as the sport has evolved, so have the dosages of skills required to excel.

It is clear to everyone that a modern GP driver is a quite different animal than a driver of 50 years ago. To properly make a judgement on which skills were needed you have to look at the kind of cars they drove.

50 years ago, cars were basically unguided torpedos, extreemly fast, heavy and nearly gripless. It stands to reason then that the ability to "control" these cars was of the utmost importance. Racing lines were quite liberal. Aerodynamics and downforce specifically were non-existent, and grip was almost exclusivly mechanical. That meant that there was no true "racing line" you could take a classic line through a bend or simply drift the car through at silly angles. The importance for the driver was to find speed. The importance of the car was to provide reliable (predictable, consistent) handling. You could, by all accounts "feel" the car losing grip and the best drivers were able to take it to this limit (and beyond!) and maintain it there.

The one a true change was the advent of downforce, both from wings and ground effects. This shifted the roles of the driver and the car. suddenly, the car became the almost exclusive component generating speed, while the driver's role was to consitently maintain this maximum speed without making a mistake. The cars became very sensitive, and at the height of ground effects, absolutely no warning before spinning off. Also, the advent of downforce brought about the absolute racing line. Aerodynamics make for only one "quickest" way around a track. Also, ever rising speeds have meant increasing importance of aerodynamic grip, at the expense of mechanical grip. Drifting through a turn is impossible today. When it does happen, it's beause the driver has made a mistake.

So the modern driver is expected to maintain a much higher level of performance (speed & closer racing) while not making any mistakes. This also applies to the entire season, as the competition for champioships is way more intense and contested than they were
even 30 years ago. The WDC is expected to win 7-9 races from 17 when 3-4 from 12 would suffice 50 years ago.

The past drivers were required to constantly push the limits of their machines, and use their reflexes to constantly correct the behavior of the car. A superior driver in inferior machinery could overcome much of his disadvantage through increased car control. A superior driver in superior machinery gave us the kind of dominance that only Fangio was able to maintain. Even a Schumacher, Senna or Prosy could not dominate in the same way today. Their extra ability is not enough to overcome serious car deffiencies and they were only been able to win championships in what were dominant or at the very least, super-competitive cars.

The one thing I've left out is nerve. And I think that it is the one thing that makes the difference in the end. In short, the modern GP driver is not called upon to exercise the same amount of courage at racing speeds as they once were. Safety improvement in cars, tracks and rules have saved countless lives, but a by-product of this is this loss of that quality that (for me) elevated racers to near mythical status. These men used to risk their lives. If they made a mistake they could correct, they risked at the very least limb if not life. Today (thankfully) a driver like Jacques Villeneuve, determined to take a poor car like the 1999 BAR through Eau Rouge flat, expects to make it out without serious injury should it all go wrong.


In this sense what we consider to be "better driving" is influenced by what we consider is more attractive as a set of skills. Being able to "will" a car faster around a track, laughing in the face of death, often inches away or being able to maintain an "ultimate" pace flawlessly and without letup for nearly one year under the most intense of scrutiny.



From 1950 to 1983, formula one averaged one death per season for every 10 drivers competing. This does not include countless career-ending injuries, or incidents such as Nikki Lauda's 1976 crash. Since 1983 there have been 2 (driver) deaths I believe.

The height of this danger came with the advent of ground effects. They made cars leiterally stuck to the road, generating G forces above 4 in the corners (remember that G forces of 3.7 cancelled the CART race due to drivers nearly passing out). drivers were so distressed that many tried actually tying their helmets to the back of the cockpit, the forces so trong that they could not keep their heads up in the corners. The speeds reached new dizzying heights, while safety had not significantly improved since the advent of the cockpit in the 60's. On the other hand drivers of pre 1960 WC's had to contend with amateur teams that provided very little reliablity to the drivers.The risk of mechanical failures were huge, and the nature of the cars and circuits meant that the difference between life and death was often down to the driver's ability to avoid a massive shunt following an (all too frequent) mechanical failure.

So for this reason, I will always have a special feeling for the drivers that raced in the pre 1980's era. These men were perhaps no different then the current grid, but the job they did called upon a comitment that will always place them in a seperate, untouchable category of sportsmen. You can easily see from this why Gilles Villeneuve is at the top of this list. He exemplified the mythical quality that is sadly gone from todays drivers. For those of us who can remember, our hearts beat that much faster back then, when these men were on the edge of disaster, we were watching men scoff at the ultimate risk. They were living a life of fame and luxury, the whole time the "ax" was pearched right above their necks, the slightest slipup and it was all gone in an instant, but their passion and deterination would overcome this fact and race after race they continued to push the limits of the possible, in the face of 10% of their peers (and all to often the greats) paying the ultimate price. The drama can and will never compare.

I try to instead marvel at what the modern GP driver must be. Politician, near computer precision, incredible concentration, both on and off the track, the ability to withstand immense pressure and scrutiny. teams like Ferrari invest 300 million dollars a year in winning. Can you imagine your boss coming up to you and saying "We've just invested 300 million in you, now go and perform to those expectations."

So the "drama" has changed. The teams (cars) are now taking the majority of the risks, and the drivers must answer to the ever increasing expectations. No less than 5 teams (BAR, Jordan, Williams, Jaguar and Renault) are planning to "win races and challenge for WC's in 2-3 seasons" that's 5 WC's to be won in 3 years, not to mention that both Ferrari and Maclaren aren't planning 2-3 years of midfield performances... These drivers have to perform to the limits of their cars and participate in meeting these impossible expectations. Not all of these teams will succeed...

#14 CVAndrw

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Posted 18 June 2001 - 13:55

In an era when drivers contesting the FIA F1 World Championship for Drivers focus exclusively on that series, this whole case becomes senseless. The current crop of drivers -- however and whoever you define them -- will be looked at a different light from those of the past. Regardless of their considerable talent and abilities, the very essence of the world in which they compete, will cause the Schumachers, Senna, Mansell, Prost, and others to occupy places in the pantheon of motor racing personalities that will differentiate them from those who preceded them.

It really has little to do with the drivers themselves, than the nature of the world in which they operate. F1 today is a radically different world than that of 1921 or 1931 or 1951 or 1961 or 1966 or 1971 or 1981. It is a closed ecosystem. The mores have changed, if you will. It is no longer expected that drivers in F1 will participate in other forms of racing. The 1961 WDC, Phil Hill, drove sports cars in the WSCC as well as GP cars for Ferrari, plus other sports car races in North America. Even Jackie Stewart branched out a bit in 1971, but not much of the same can be said for Nelson Piquet in 1981.



May I both acknowledge to a point and then respectfully disagree that thereby “this whole case becomes senseless”? I thought our debate was to be upon the difficulty of comparing the place in history of the great drivers of their eras, not the technological or socio-political relevance of the vehicles and series in which they happened to display their powers? I find this a wholly appropriate and fascinating subject for “trial”, if you will, which I hope and believe should attract the highest and most passionate level of argument. (And by the way, with all due respect to our esteemed NF host, I’m glad this debate is here rather than the Nostalgia Forum- now there one might well find a certain amount of old-fart’s deck-stacking, guilty as I may occasionally be myself!)

I would submit that the greatest, or “legendary” drivers for the purpose of this debate have invariably been involved in what was, in their era, the ultimate forms of motorsport, to satisfy the demands of their own genius, ego, id or compulsion if for no other reason, even though those mechanical parameters have shifted continually through racing’s entire history.

“Grand Prix” racing- remember, F1 and the WDC did not exist as such- certainly was the ne plus ultra during the intra-Nazi Mercedes Benz/Auto Union wars of the thirties, with the near-metaphysics of Nuvolari and Alfa Romeo thrown in as spoiler. Before then, I would suggest the glamour events were sportscar, open road endurance racing, and attempts on the land speed record, a discipline which then claimed the great Bernd Rosemeyer and is now the province of American hot rodders and RAF pilots.

After the war, perhaps understandably, the FIA decided to create a “Formula One” and related World Driving Championship in which the numeric and geographical modifiers had some relevance- although the great sportscar races retained their glorious status at least through the Le Mans disaster of 1955 and the continuing carnage at the Mille Miglia- and it was both appropriate and expected that the greatest drivers would participate (and no doubt be compensated adequately, at least by the standards of the time).

Move ahead another ten years, and recall that, aside from the individual displays of genius by Moss, Clark, Gurney, Stewart and such in the “underpowered”, “unspectacular” 1.5 liter GP machinery (dismissive adjectives I recall vividly from contemporary journalism) the glamour, glory and sheer speed were to be found in the Ford/Ferrari vendetta, the technological revolution at Indianapolis, and the mechanical wonderland that was the emerging Can-Am series, and that is naturally where those same legendary drivers found themselves pulling extra duty.

And now? Post-1990? Just what is I would certainly hope considered today to be the “Pinnacle of Motorsport”? After all, we find this whole forum on the Atlas F1 website, do we not? The current overestricted, overegulated, identical appearing, Concorde emasculated F1: grooved tires, lack of dicing, commercial nonsense and all, is most definitely the very top, and if you disagree, then just remember to watch- I mean, really watch- the super slow-motion qualifying video of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen to which we'll be treated at the upcoming European GP (OK, even I confess I can’t make myself call it the Nurburgring!). There is racing genius still extant today, genius that will someday be described as "legendary". Racing is different, the cars are different, the world is different, but the great drivers are and will always be cut from the same cloth, and by any definition of fair play should be accorded the same respect. Perhaps, indeed, the manufacturers will set up a non-F1 series that will turn things upside down yet again, but this debate can only take place by the standards of today vs. the past.

And hey, one more thing: you mention Piquet and 1981 (although I guess it was actually 1979): remember BMW’s ProCar M1 series? Even if it was basically just a PR exercise? If ever there were a more spectacular, glamourous, utterly silly, irrelevant and I thought quite wonderful exhibition of pure racing, which attracted the greatest names of the day (or those who would soon become such) for the sheer fun, money and glory of it all, I’d like to know what it would have been! Nassau Speed Weeks? Naahhh….

#15 CVAndrw

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Posted 18 June 2001 - 20:17

The earlier drivers could and did drive in a number of cars within a Formula One Grand Prix meeting, making the effort to please the fans with displays of unequalled car control across a range of vehicle that would never be allowed in todays 'specialists' races. The escape of todays drivers from the GP as soon as the vehicle retires is another reflection of lack of commitment.



I would say, poor example! Today’s drivers, directly after debriefing (!) are probably on their way to yet another test session, arduous physical training or what must be a mind-numbing ordeal of compulsory public relations torture which lasts pretty much fifty two weeks a year. The star-struck eight year old kart racer who wants to be the next Schumacher embarks on a life long "commitment" in a way that the legendary magicians of the heroic past would have probably dismissed as typical of the working class, who hardly belonged in “their” sport. (I guess they were willing, or had no choice, but to make the proletarian allowance for Tazio, though. And I’ve always loved the story of Caracciola, post race, marching into the hotel bar and ordering champagne cocktails for himself and his friend “and a beer for Lang!”)

The greater involvement and ability without the endless training epitomises the natural skill factor and rises above the ability of the 'Journeyman' driver to reach the heights within GP racing. The greater selection of formula racing cars demanded an mechanical understanding and skill missing from todays sterile racers. A brief list of the popular formulas of yesterdays drivers would include Formula One, Formula Two, Saloon car, sports-racers, Can-Am and Indy car that the leading drivers could and did participate in within a given season.



Perhaps the opposite. Perhaps today’s endless training, career commitment and technical understanding serve as a screen through which to sift a vastly greater pool of potentially legendary drivers. Perhaps, sacrilege though it be, it was not that Nuvolari, Caracciola, Rosemeyer were so supernaturally talented (though they were, they were…) but that their competition possessed a relative mediocrity they couldn’t get away with today? Who’s to say how today’s “journeyman”, say, Fisichella or Irvine or Verstappen, would do if placed in a time machine and sent up against the immortals of the past? Rob Walker, who I feel has always been as qualified as humanly possible to adjudge different eras, is on record more than once expressing his belief that Nelson Piquet, for example, would have been better suited to the heroic era than the technological and commercially dominated age in which he found himself.

I would also submit that various polls are a distortion as the memory of and limited knowledge of earlier drivers by the younger fans will result in a mis-informed target poll.



Gotta agree there. What the hell is this current British poll ranking Mansell above all else? Who’d they ask, those lorry drivers reading their tabloids in their shallys on the beach at Bournemouth?

The sublime ability to control and manipulate a number of racing cars must far out-weight the limited task of racing a single formula racing car.



No, it just reflects the technological realities of the era in question. Today’s F1 cars happen to behave more like 800 bhp karts than anything else, that’s all, so that’s where the drivers are coming from. Is there anyone on the planet who wouldn’t really, truly, in his heart of hearts like to see Jean Alesi go head to head in the dirt with Colin McRae or Carlos Sainz?

I still maintain that a driver is a driver, and the more things change, the more they remain the same. Anyone notice the recent shared character building experience of Tazio Nuvolari and Kimi Raikkonen, whereby each finished his respective race with the steering wheel flopping about in his hands rather than attached to the race car? Admittedly, Nuvolari actually crossed the finish line while Raikkonen ended up in the wall, but to be fair you’d have to describe the particular mechanical implement called simply a “steering wheel” as having undergone a certain evolution in function and complexity in the intervening decades…

#16 Don Capps

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Posted 19 June 2001 - 14:36

I think this case was an extremely poor one to begin with and what has been written -- including my feeble efforts -- only go to show exactly how truly senseless it is take this so-called 'debate' and 'case' seriously.

Why? The very idea of ranking drivers -- and hence 'quantifying' their memory -- is one that I have great problems with and find senseless.

As an example, let us look to another branch of the entertainment industry: The American Film Institute announced its list of the '50 Greatest Greatest American Screen Legends' not too long ago. Here is the link:

http://www.afionline...ts/50stars.html

The list was drawn from a pool of some 500 'screen legends' and then ranked by a vote. Personally, like the critic for the Chicago Sun Times -- Roger Ebert, I am aghast that people take these types of lists seriously. How can you seriously judge whether Fred Astaire should be ranked higher on the male list than Ginger Rogers on the female list? After all, Ginger did what Fred did only in high heels and backwards -- surely she should be at least equally rated? Or whether Spencer Tracy is a lot or just a tiny bit lesser of an actor than Jimmy Cagney? All of those on the list are men and women of immense talent. How absurb to rank them.

See where these sorts of pseudo-debates go? Nowhere!

The drivers of today will be remembered -- as will the drivers of yesterday.Those with Talent that is obvious to even the Untrained Eye will be noticed and remembered by those in future generations. Next! End of debate. Next case!

Does it matter whether or not they are remembered more or less 'rightfully' than those before them? Will the answer to that question cause the tides to stop? The Earth to case to rotate? The seasons to not change? Hardly.

I think this case simply doesn't hold water. We might as have a case to debate how 'high is high?' or 'what is love?' for all that will be determined from this. Who really cares or what difference does it make? Not to me. Whether the decision is that Today's Drivers will or will not 'occupy the same honoured place in history decades from now,' is of little consequence.

I am sorry I even wasted my time with this nonsense.

I move for a mistrial based on the fact that the very criteria being at issue cannot be determined and therefore there can be no basis for a decision.

This case does provide an insight into the psyche of Modern Times, however: That the question was even asked....

#17 Jaxs

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Posted 19 June 2001 - 19:35

Tut tut, CV Andrews would have us believe that the present day driver's lot is fraught with the demands of the testing and PR circuit. One has only to recap the activities of Messers Jordan and Hill in performing in a 'Rock & Roll' band subsequent to more than one GP, hardly the high pressure testing and PR circuit.

I would seriously submit that in the attempts to trivualise the earlier submissions the plaintifs actually underline the skills and dedications of the earlier drivers.

The present day drivers existence within the PR sircuit only underlines the detached life styles that have little relationship to reality. The recent , dare I use the word, exposure of the newly achieved WDC, Mika Hakkinen, in being flown through out Eastern Europe to accomodate the whims of the sponsors, the driver had very little to do , other than utter the carefully rehearsed monologue regarding his achievements and the sponsors participation. The pre 1990 WDC would be expected to continue their normal life style, running their own or the family business, attending to normal day to day travel, and continue with testing of new introduced modification to the racing cars.

The technical considerations have been glossed over by the earlier submission in a futile attempt to denigrate and undermine the necessary physical prowess that was an accepted and normal standard. The painstaking efforts and physical discomfort in the use of a manual six speed gearbox, this is not the finger flicking gearchange of the modern semi automatic gearbox but the energy draining and palm searing torture of the constant need to be totally aware of the ' right gear at the right moment' and making every physical effort to achieve that condition.

This, in itself, would reduce the modern day driver to a physical wreck but combined with the Manual steering and the prerequisite skill to steer, one handed, and change gear, one handed, in a smooth flowing and controlled manner for the lenght of the average Grand prix would leave our modern counter parts in search of specialist to wipe their fevered brow.

The comments regarding ahesion, no consideration is giving to the reduced 'footprint' of the earlier tyres, the miniscule allowance for error, the ability to control the 'slide' or 'Yaw' of the car across the apex of the corner which today would be a rundendant art form in the modern vehicles and with the modern driver.

The present day vehicle is the epitome of technology for technology sake, the designers are seeking new and imaginative ways to reduce the control of the modern driver, the confidence of the designer to place totally reposibility in the hands of the driver is undermined be the seemingly mindless accidents. The ' damage in practice ' to cite only one example but the need to have both of the drivers hands on the steering wheel is but a further example of the lack of trust that exists between the present drivers and designers.

The present day use of Managers and PR agency to further the drivers careers only underlines the inability to implement and achieve a business criteria on their own behalf, a standard or process that was surplus to requirements in the earlier years.

Whilst it is not always possible for the plaintiffs to evaluate the efforts of the earlier drivers, I would suggest that the use of the modern Video or DVD be utilised to broaden and enlighten the view of the earlier drivers, could I possible suggest 'Champions, Jim Clark, Portrait of a Legend' or similar to allow an indepth insight to the achievements of an 'earlier' driver.

Most repectfully,

Jaxs

#18 Yelnats

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Posted 19 June 2001 - 21:04

Todays drivers are called upon to maintain a higher performance level than was expected of or was even possible in the past. (Though I belive the 1990 cutoff is too late and would place this in the mid eighties.) Tire design, refuling and mechanical reliability have produced racers today that hve the ability to maintain a pace very close to maximum throughout the rather short duration of a F1 race.

This was not the case in the past.

Moss comment on this aspect of racing and pointed to failing dampers and brakes constantly changed the performance potential of a fifties racer and produced great tepidation when commiting to a corner at the limit. One was never sure where the limit lay from lap to lap and even corner to corner. This coupled with the blind curves and hazardous trackside environments, fire hazards and neligeble medical facitities and it is little wonder that us oldtimers cannot regard the racer of today with the same awe we reserve for a Fangio, Moss and Nuvolari.

A modern F1 driver of course is far above a golfer (Tiger? Woods) or footballer in dedication as their life and limb is on the line all the time. Can you imagine an F1 driver having the luxury of backing off at Eau Rouge becase a fans jeers distracted him?

But the drivers of yore taming the tippy, fuel laden overpowered fire bombs of their era will always desrve a special place in the hearts of the knowledgable fan. Jackie Stewart in particular deserves mention as he fully realised the dangers on an inttelectual plane but overcame this to be one of the faster drivers of the modern era. His "Baptisim by Fire" took place while hanging upside down, soaked with fuel in a crackling hot F1 car while pandimonium reined outside and long overdue futile rescue attempts began!

#19 unrepentant lurker

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Posted 20 June 2001 - 06:04

quote by Mtl78:

"From 1950 to 1983, formula one averaged one death per season for every 10 drivers competing. This does not include countless career-ending injuries, or incidents such as Nikki Lauda's 1976 crash. Since 1983 there have been 2 (driver) deaths I believe."

I do not doubt that racing is safer today then in the past, but this particular statistic is a bit over the top. From AtlasF1's "Safety in F1" piece: http://www.atlasf1.c...ews/safety.html


'63 to '83
15 deaths and 13 injuries (drivers at F1 events)

'83 to ' 99
2 deaths and 17 injuries

So in order to maintain the 1 death per 10 drivers per season, they would have had to have been dieing by the boatload in the '50's.

Racing remains a very dangerous, no matter how you cut it. Although, no F1 driver has died since Senna, there have been plenty of other kinds of drivers killed. Sportscars have seen Alboreto, NASCAR has had 5 (?) in their top series', CART has 3 that I can think of. There may be more.

As to injuries, Piquet, Hakkinen, Herbert and maybe some others continue to suffer from the effects of crashes years ago. The IRL had that huge shunt recently that may end the careers of two drivers. McCrea broke his leg after driving over a cliff last year, MS did the same but with a tire wall. Diniz is lucky to have his head today.

One final comment. As I recall, Fangio's goal was to win the race driving as slowly as possible. Hardly comes across as "laughing in the face of death."

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#20 CVAndrw

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Posted 20 June 2001 - 23:00

If I may approach the bench?

The related subjects of acceptance of danger, the willingness to accept risk as a condition of trusting in one’s capacity for excellence, and the awareness and disregard of one’s mortality- the importance of these issues to drivers of the legendary era and the perception that today’s drivers are happily free of such concerns- have now been introduced in the context of this case frequently enough to affect my reasoning; I would introduce a motion that such issues be declared inadmissible as evidence based on the following:

As has been pointed out correctly by Don Capps:

It really has little to do with the drivers themselves, than the nature of the world in which they operate. F1 today is a radically different world than that of 1921 or 1931 or 1951 or 1961 or 1966 or 1971 or 1981.



During the “legendary” or “yesteryear” era of which we speak, concern for the previously mentioned issues simply did not exist as such, either in motorsport or the society of which it was a part. There were no helmets, seatbelts, fire protection, Armco, runoff areas, emergency services, helicopters, Sid Watkins, product liability litigation, insurance waivers by today’s standards, etc. because they did not exist in the world as a whole. Who is to say if Nuvolari or Fangio or Moss would have driven as they did had they been confidently assured that they could walk away from the big one and die comfortably in bed? The instinct for self-preservation is considered part of our biology; those who lack it are today more likely to be considered potential serial killers than artists or sportsmen to be admired (gangsta rappers and NFL linebackers excepted).

During the “modern” era, all has changed. Two World Wars, genocide as state policy, global pandemics, immediate information sharing and telecommunication, and electoral political necessity have all created a different and obviously commendable regard for human life- in theory if not in practice- both in motorsport and the society in which it dwells. Who is to say if Jacques Villeneuve would have tried to take Eau Rouge flat had he assumed as a simple condition of reality that a one inch error would have resulted in instantaneous death?

I suggest that the attitude of yesteryear’s drivers toward life, death and their existential permutations were no different in essence, only in degree, from the general populations’, aside from the virtues and heroism we discuss here. That world was a dangerous place for all.

I suggest that that the attitude of today’s drivers is likewise reflective of their context. This world wants, or at least says it wants, to be a kinder, gentler place than it was, and drivers, legendary or otherwise, are still human beings, albeit extraordinary ones.

I therefore move that those issues of safety, danger and physical courage as they affect driver performance between then and now be declared irrelevant and immaterial in this case, as being moot to the specific comparisons we are debating.

#21 Viss1

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Posted 21 June 2001 - 11:50

I respectfully request a clarification from the Court.

I am under the impression that once the hearing period ends, any comments made after that period are not considered. In this case, I didn't read this thread until after 6/13, and therefore refrained from commenting. Am I correct?

#22 mtl'78

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Posted 21 June 2001 - 15:10

The documentation that I used which makes the claim of nearly 10% of F1 drivers paying the ultimate price was in Gerald Donaldson's book on James Hunt, as well as a few other sources along the years. As far as I can tell, it draws unpon the names of all the drivers competing in F1 and the ones that died in motor racing, so for example, Jim Clark would be included, even thoughhe died in an F2 car I believe. Also as far as I can tell, they included drivers participating in a GP, though perhaps not driving an F1 car. In the 50's especially (and before) often many different classes of racing were done on the same track at the same time.

The point is not to acheive a statistical analysis, but to show that the state of mind of the pre mid-80's driver was that he was risking is life every time he stepped into the car. Also, to show that since 1983, aside from one terrible weekend, this is no longer the case.


I also want to address the point that has been raised as to the futility of this debate. I agere that it is futile to try and compare Fangio's race craft to Prosts' or Moss' control to Schumacher's, but this debate does allow for an exposition as to which qualities were most needed throughout the eras, and perhaps a judgement can be made as to which are either: more desireable, more challenging etc. For example one thing is clear ( a point I've made above): Yesterday's driver faced a more difficlt dilema in the cockpit. Fighting for the extra tenth involved a lot more psychology than it does today.

#23 mtl'78

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Posted 21 June 2001 - 15:32

As to the latest motion to disregard the safety aspect in motor racing, I have to disagere whole-heartedly.

This phenomenon is not just applicable to F1, it is a general trend. Sports are safer than they've ever been. US motor sports have had a difficult period, but the fact that they are alone in the use of ovals greatly distorts those statistics. Ovals are virtually unchanged from 50 years ago, whereas your average road course in unrecognizable.

In hockey, 20 years ago, there were perhaps 2 or 3 players who would lay their bodies on the ice to block shots in front of their net. This was a hugely spectacular move, and there were only a handfull of players in the game willing/able to do it. Fast foreward 20 years and players are benched if they fail to perform this task. What happened? Improvements in equippement have dramaticly reduced the threat of injury, and so the average player is no longer afraid of being injured by the frozen, 90mph rubber bullet.

However, players rely on this improved equipement rather than incrased ability ( in this case ANTICIPATION in the key). I was witness to this very fact:

A few years ago, I was at a Montreal Canadiens' game, when this journeyman named Trent Mcleary went down to blocka shot from the blue line. I watched as he performed the maoeuvre all wrong, he laid down with his upperbody between the goal and the puck rather than his legs. The inevitable happened and the shot struck him flush in the neck, where the skin is bare...

He lay on the ice writhing in pain for a few seconds, then jumped to his feet in a panic, skated a few strides and collapsed back onto the ice, unable to take a breath. The trainers were immediatly on the ice, escorting him back to the bench while he collapsed twice more. When they reached the bench the team doctor, which had seen the whole incident performed an emergency trachiotomy (sp) which saved his life. He never played again.

The point is, here was a sportsman relying on the improved safety rather than skill, and in this extreeme example, this total relyiance was nearly fatal. I believe this applies to F1 as well. JV can rely on his car saving him from a mistake. He is undoubtebly as comitted as any of his predecessors, but the balance is not the same at all.

#24 Rich

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Posted 21 June 2001 - 18:39

Viss1, this was always going to be a tough case, so I'm granting an extension until Mon 25 June before closing the case. If you'd like to post a contribution, go ahead.

#25 Viss1

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Posted 22 June 2001 - 12:27

Thank you for the clarification.

I first reject the argument that the immense salaries and playboy image of today's drivers will detract from their future respectability. F1 history is recorded by automotive journalists, not tabloids or advertising agencies. We may therefore assume that the driver-as-celebrity issue will be moot when judging today's drivers in the future; true automotive journalists have always considered drivers based on their driving skills, not their off-track behavior.

I also reject the argument that technology has made driving easier for modern drivers. Grand Prix has always been racing's technological showcase. Do we hold Caracciola in any less regard because his equipment was far superior to the competition, or beause his team devoted what was then considered a ridiculous amount of money on the campaign?

Today's champions rightfully deserve their accolades, given that today's leading teams are so much more closely matched than they were in the Golden Era. We are able to state with confidence that the four leading drivers of today (MS, DC, MH, RB) are driving cars of essentially equal performance. The dominance of one driver over the rest will therefore be duly noted in the future.

#26 Wolf

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Posted 23 June 2001 - 01:37

I disagree that perilous circumstances do not affect performance. Look at all the mistake driver makes under pressure (stalling on the grid- MS, or missing gears- MH), and only C'ship being at stake... What would be if their lives were at stake, race after race.

And I would also like to contest Jimm's argument about number of races per season. If I am not very much mistaken, for example, Sir Stirling Moss entered 56 races in 1952, and 48 in 1961... No small feat, and he wasn't alone in that sort of thing. Pls check out: Toughest driver schedules? (TNF)

#27 Yelnats

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Posted 24 June 2001 - 05:18

May it please the court to consider the title of this thread leaves it open to interpretation whether it is the actual worth of the drivers that we are considering or our merely opinions of the fans about same. My submission is that the worth of the drivers is imponderable and beyond our judgment on this earth.

But there is no doubt that men who expose themselves daily to the risk of death to achieve success are different that golfers or pool players who merely try hard. It is this element of danger that sets car drivers apart from most other atheletes. To ignore danger while maintaining focus is the essence of cool. And there is no doubt a driver in the 60's demonstrated more of this cool than the drivers of today. This is why oldtimers like myself can never feel the same about a Schumacher as we do about Lauda or Stewart.

This is not a condemnation of modern drivers but one wonders if a different set of characters would populate the grid today if they (heaven forbid) had to calculate (as James Hunt did), that they would have to win a WDC within a very few years to assure themselves of a reasonable chance retiring to enjoy their sucess.

#28 CVAndrw

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Posted 26 June 2001 - 12:16

I submit as evidence in my closing argument, in support of the prosecution’s case that in fact a great driver is a great driver regardless of era, and that from some future perspective this will become easier to explain or at least to debate, Michael Schumacher’s fastest qualifying lap on Saturday, June 24th, 2001. And yes, I’ll freely confess right now that to even begin to mention on the same page the same two names and performances I’m about to, is, to me way more than anyone else, absurdly pretentious bordering on outright blasphemy. I mean, if there’s one event that is most definitely “legendary” and another that is, well, shall we say, “not quite yet and not bloody likely to ever be considered so”, well… And yet, fool though I may be, there’s a point here that I want to at least try to make that I think goes to the very essence of what I thought this admittedly absurd but fascinating debate was supposed to about from the very opening statement of the case.

Now, I know that a few miles away, at the German Grand Prix, on the Nordschleife, on August 4th, 1957, Juan Manuel Fangio created by his defeat of the superior machines of Hawthorn and Collins what is now almost universally acknowledged to be the greatest single performance by a racing driver in Grand Prix history- a performance which Fangio went to his grave admitting he could never comprehend or explain even to himself, merely certain that he knew he had never driven that way before, and never would again. And that Michael Schumacher’s pole lap last Saturday on what is ridiculously also referred to as the "Nurburgring" was probably, in the greater scheme of things, just another pole in Schumacher’s inexorable but somehow inevitable march to what’ll probably be another relatively easy and undramatic World Championship. And yet…

There exists something within those two men that they share in some quality of strange genius. Michael’s little brother’s Williams BMW, on the day, on the entire weekend, was simply a good half-second faster than the Ferrari. Nothing mysterious- better chassis, stronger engine, equal tires, whatever- Ralf was using less road and was yet effortlessly faster. And yet that something that I say he shares with Fangio I truly believe made Michael reach down inside himself, not his car, and pull out that half second and more. Why bother? To prove what? He’s made his money. He’d start from the front row anyway. He’d win the points, most likely the race, certainly the championship. To prove he was still Big Brother, after all? To repeat to himself and the world Yves Montand’s best line from the best racing movie, “I’m STILL the best”?

But whatever the motivation, trivial or profound, Michael turned in, perhaps simply to prove to himself that he could do it, perhaps the most classically, inch precise single lap of his career- and Michael Schumacher, whatever his other qualities, is not a classical, inch precise perfectionist. He is rather a driver, as has been noted by observers as astute as Jackie Stewart, Gordon Murray, Patrick Head and Niki Lauda to mention a few, in possession of such brutally violent, overwhelmingly arrogant car control that he is constantly making tiny mistakes of overdriving that he is routinely able to correct by sheer reflex into superior overall speed. And the difference between his usual style and performance and the unique, for him, precision of what he felt compelled to do on Saturday, is something that goes to the very essence of why I’ve been so fascinated by these few men all my life.

Maybe Schumacher will be able to someday explain his mysterious gift in some way Fangio never could, but something tells me, as with Nuvolari, and Clark, and Moss, and Senna, and the rest of that tiny handful, he’ll never understand it himself. And that shared genius is a bond between them that I think we should respect and acknowledge, regardless of what is I maintain is in actuality a superfluous and hardly unique to us somewhat inflated regard for the mountains of our youth and the golden spectacles of sheer nostalgia.

One final thought: if some of us really are, in the end, however reluctantly, just simply unable to afford the same unqualified respect to the drivers of today, who, regardless of their genius and dedication, are thankfully no longer subject to the same necessary disregard of their own mortality again and again simply to do what they love and then to gift us vicariously- is it possible, hard as it might be to admit, that it says less about those drivers’ unique but shared qualities as human beings than it might about whatever deep psychological needs are satisfied within us, the fans? Could it mean, after all, that there is some tiny, ugly core of truth in the blood lust our worst critics have always delighted in spitting in our faces?

I reject that hypothesis, utterly. A great driver is a great driver because of what he can do, not what he is willing to risk. Anyone can be brave, mediocre, and dead.

I guess here is where I say, “I rest my case”.

#29 Rich

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Posted 26 June 2001 - 22:04

This hearing is now closed. Thanks for your contributions all, judgement will be posted soon.

#30 Rich

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Posted 21 November 2001 - 17:20

Once again, thanks to all who contributed to this case. Initially, I feared that the overall premise would be too daunting to encourage argument from either side. My fears proved ill founded, and the case has attracted solid and thought-provoking arguments from both sides. Herewith are my findings and verdict on the case.

Preface

This case sought to examine the phenomenon whereby the driving heroes of the present become immortalised in the future. The memories of legends like Fangio, Nuvolari and Clark enjoy near-universal fondness, admiration and respect. The question central to this case was 'Will today's dominant drivers occupy the same honoured place in history decades from now?'


The Judgement

Some contributors took the case premise to be 'Which era had the most talented/bravest/most commited drivers', and justifiably wrote off the case as 'absurd'. For such a case would indeed be absurd. The best of the gene pool is the best of the gene pool, irrespective of era.

Instead, the case premise concerns itself with how today's superstars will be remembered by future generations. I've bolded the future tense, as it is key to the whole concept. I'll illustrate with an example from the arguments provided. Some contributors argued that the legendary figures occupy a special place in their hearts because these drivers 'laughed in the face of death', because they constantly risked their lives to race in 'unsafe' conditions. But what exactly is 'unsafe'? Racing has always been 'unsafe', the only thing that has changed is the magnitude of the risk. Modern and current safety improvements have made the sport 'safer', but have also served to heighten the image of yesteryear's stars as 'braver'. If safety improvements had never been made, then there would be no difference between the public perception of Fangio or Schumacher in terms of 'bravery', for both would have raced under identical safety circumstances.

The real questions are 'Would yesteryear's drivers have accepted and adopted today's safety improvements?' and 'Would Michael Schumacher be prepared to race in 1950 conditions?' The answer to both questions is an obvious 'yes'. If Michael Schumacher had raced in the 1950's, and had no idea about the safety enhancements that would become available to drivers in the 21st Century, he would have got into the car and raced his heart out, no questions asked. Likewise, I don't recall Clark, Gurney and Brabham eschewing the use of safety aids that weren't available to drivers of earlier years - stronger crash helmets, cockpits with seat belts, fire extinguishers, etc. These drivers did not race because of the danger; they raced despite of it. And, all of them used whatever tools were at their disposal to make their occupation as safe as possible.

As a society, we base our opinions of past achievements on current conditions. If racing had become even more dangerous now than it was in the pre-War years, with increased speeds and numbers of driver deaths, would we still be marvelling at the 'bravery' and 'daring' of those legendary drivers? Clearly, we would not. So our memory of them (and the past in general) is inextricably tied to the conditions of the present. And those 'conditions of the present' are constantly in flux, and determined by the broader society. Today, the thought of one country occupying another and subverting the indigenous population to the whims of an 'invader government' is anathema to most people. During earlier decades, European colonisation was widely accepted, tolerated, even promoted among the general populace. As times change, so does our perception of the past.

In order to answer the question 'Will today's drivers be remembered with the same reverence as yesteryear's?' we should not compare today's drivers to yesteryear's. We should compare today's drivers with those of the future. For it is the future that will determine how Senna, Prost and Schumacher will be remembered, not the present or past.

Throughout the arguments presented during this case, I have seen contributors arguing the greatness of past legends by using current or modern standards - 'Fangio didn't have all the safety gizmos that today's drivers have, so he was of necessity a braver and more commited driver'. Is it, then, not a given that Michael Schumacher's 'greatness' will be 'remembered' using the standards applicable to future generations? If F1 racing becomes a scrupulously fair and gentlemanly sport, will that not denigrate Schumacher's Jerez 1997 conduct? Alternatively, if driving rivals off the road increases to the point where it becomes a means to decide each race, let alone each championship, will that not dilute Schumacher's conduct to the point where, ironically, he is remembered as 'more fair' than the future drivers against whom he will be judged?

This concept applies across all the areas that are used by the general populace to determine 'greatness' in a driver - daring, driving talent, machinery, commercial concerns, public image, professionalism, thoroughness of preparation, dedication to the sport, and so on. If F1 develops into a sport in which the cars are piloted by computerised drones, then I have no doubt that Schumacher will be remembered as a legend from a time when 'Racing was a human and not a computer endeavour'. On the other hand, if F1 adopts a retro attitude in the future, and reverts to manual boxes, no TC, no power steering, less aero enhancements, no launch control etc, then the memory of Schumacher's achievements will be reduced along with it, and he may well be remembered as 'the technological champion'.

For the purposes of this case, we already have a known quantity - the reputation, memory and achievements of the sport's legendary figures. Under the conditions prevalent in today's society, we recognise and honour the greatness of Fangio, Clark, Nuvolari et al. We have a second known quantity - the current perceptions of modern champions like Schumacher and Hakkinen. What we do not know, and what the case sought to postulate, was how future generations will view Schumacher and Hakkinen, and whether their memory would survive the test of time as well as the memories of Fangio et al.

The case premise may be absurd to some. But, in that case, the whole world is absurd - because this issue stretches far beyond F1. It is an issue in virtually every field of human endeavour. Let's take boxing as an example. For many boxing fans, the splintering of the title 'World Champion' into the different factions governed by the various boxing authorities was the death-knell for boxing. For these fans, a Mike Tyson could never be considered as great as a Rocky Marciano, simply because the sport had changed irrevocably for the worse. The same extends to tennis. Pete Sampras has achieved far more than John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg or Jimmy Connors ever achieved (in terms of major tournaments won), yet many tennis fans refuse to grant him the same honoured place in history. The same extends to golf. Yesteryear's legends (Nicklaus, Hogan, Palmer etc) were 'shotmakers', men who could use any clubs to make breathtaking shots in any situation. Today's pros are seen as 'technological champions', who merely have to swing and let the computer-designed aerodynamically-enhanced self-correcting square-grooved beryllium copper club do the rest.

The same phenomenon extends beyond sport as well. Don Capps nailed it on the head with his Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers example. How is it possible to separate a 'team' into two elements of differing historical 'greatness'? The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, it happens on a grand scale. One needs look no further than the Beatles. The public and historical perception of the 'Fab Four' was very different in 1964 than it is today. Then, they were viewed by many as a threat to established society, rebellious youths with no redeeming qualities. Today, they are widely recognised as musical genii whose peccadilloes (such as they were) have been rendered entirely harmless and innocuous by the antics of more modern superstars. At the time of the Beatles' emerging success, the established musical hierarchy would have immediately rejected any notion that the group would occupy as prominent an historical niche as, say, Glenn Miller. History has proved different. Again, the memory and historical significance of any superstar is irrevocably set by the mores and mindset of the generation that judges them.

Alas, neither side has made a case for how future events in F1 and society will influence the Senna, Prost and Schumacher legends. As such, it becomes a very difficult case to judge. For me, there are three areas that are key to building a convincing argument in this regard :

1) Societal norms. Professional sport and societal norms are in a 'chicken or egg' situation here. Does professional sport merely reflect the mores of society, or is it instrumental in setting those mores? One thing is for sure, all pro sports have been tainted by the modern scourge of 'cheating', whether through bribing referees, taking of steroids, sneakily implementing illegal launch control, or any of the million-and-one ways in which current sports teams and stars bend the rules to ensure victory. Cheating in sports has always been a factor, it just seems that much more prominent and important in today's society. How will this trend change (if at all) in the future? And how will F1, a sport in which death or injury is an ever-present risk, be accepted in a world where death or injury goes increasingly hand-in-hand with legal blame and litigation?

2) The management of the sport itself. Some contributors questioned my demarcation of the bounds between 'today's' and 'yesteryear's' drivers, citing all sorts of technological watersheds as basis. My reason for citing 'post 1990' is because the drivers of the decade since then have not been put in a position where history can judge them. Their careers are too recent, if not still currently active, for that to happen. So our judgement is contemporary and not historical. And, as I've illustrated with examples like the Beatles above, there is often a great discrepancy between contemporary and historical judgements. It is pointless trying to find a watershed technological year, because no such thing exists. Perhaps the clearest example would be 1968, when advertising decals were allowed for the first time on cars. However, the issue extends far beyond mere sponsorship. It encompasses safety, track regulations, marshaling, economics, and technological progress, just to name a few. These are not developments that appear magically overnight - they usually phase in over an era - and the various era overlap too much to pick any one year as 'the' year when F1 'changed'. Of more importance to the case is the question 'How will the sport change/develop/improve/deteriorate in the future, and how will these developments affect our historical judgement of the achievements of modern drivers such as Senna, Prost and Schumacher?'

3) The role of the media : This, for me, was another key issue and one that nobody examined. 99,9% of racing fans base their opinions of drivers on the media coverage that they receive. There is that tiny minority who get to meet the drivers face to face, talk to them, witness their on-track feats first-hand and use this information as a yardstick for judgement. But the media, rightly or wrongly, are instrumental in determining the historical significance of any driver's career or achievements. Today's media coverage of F1 is very different than the limited coverage granted to the sport during earlier decades. It is unlikely that many of Fangio's fans would have even recognised the sound of his voice. Today, we receive blanket coverage of virtually every aspect of every driver's life, right down to whom they're sleeping with. How will this increasingly intrusive role of the media, both now and in the future, influence the way that we remember Senna, Prost and Schumacher?

Together, future developments in these three elements could have been argued either way. In my view, greatness consists of three further elements - the performance of the given 'star' against his contemporaries; factors which the 'star' had the power to change; and factors which they could not change.


The Verdict

It is certain that modern champions like Prost, Senna and Schumacher have achieved the minimum requirements for the first prerequisite of 'greatness' - just like the legendary champions, they have proven themselves to be the elite standout talents of their generation. It could be argued that they enjoyed favourable conditions from their employers, but that same argument applies equally to Fangio without diminishing the memory of his achievements. It could also be argued that nationalistic and financial interests have blocked the way of many potential rivals in current F1, but again that has applied throughout the history of motor racing. The argument that today's F1 drivers only succeed at F1, while earlier drivers succeeded across a range of formulae, is also moot. It argues that versatility is a greater trait than specialisation - perhaps true in earlier decades, but not the way that the modern world thinks. Who is the greater cricketer - an all-rounder or a specialist batsman/bowler? The answer is that there is no answer - both are equally valuable and effective skills.

In terms of 'factors that the driver could not change', I think all motor racing fans are fair-minded enough to give credit or lay blame where it's due. It is not Michael Schumacher's fault that overtaking has become so difficult in current F1, just as it was not Fangio's fault that motor racing was so dangerous in the 50's. Drivers are forced to comply with the regulations and restrictions of their era. If those regulations make for less entertaining racing, it does not follow that the lack of entertainment diminishes a driver's greatness. The 'bravery' of drivers from earlier era is not an issue in this regard. They raced with the best tools at their disposal, and simply didn't know any better. I have no doubt that Senna, Prost and Schumacher would have raced with the same commitment in any era, and accepted the inherent risks of the time. I also have no doubt that Fangio or Nuvolari, if racing today, would be staunch advocates of driver safety, and would use any and all safety aids at their disposal. Giving a driver credit for something they cannot change is, in my opinion, unjust.

The real crux of the issue is the driver's attitude towards 'factors that the drivers can change'. Ayrton Senna did not have to drive Alain Prost off the road at Suzuka 1990, Michael Schumacher did not have to drive Jacques Villeneuve off the road at Jerez 1997. No driver is forced to cheat, to demand no.1 status within the team, or to use any other underhanded method to try and gain victory. It's an extremely fine line, balancing the need to perform well for an employer, counterpointed against the need to stay within the ethical bounds of sportsmanship. It's a line that is also constantly shifting. The Beatles' long hair and support for Communism were seen as huge issues during the 1960's. Today, those same issues are laughably innocuous. How will F1 develop in the future, and how will the faults of today's superstars be judged tomorrow? It would be easy to adopt the cynical line of thought that the world is in a constant downward spiral, and that today's cheating will be accepted as tomorrow's 'competitive spirit'. I'm not so sure that will happen. The fixing of the World Series, Maradonna's handball goal, Ben Johnson's doping performance and many other sporting scandals have destroyed reputations and diminished greatness decades after the fact. There are also 'talent vacuums' in any sport's history. Golf is a typical example. From the retirement of Seve Ballesteros to the emergence of Tiger Woods, golf suffered from a lean period of more than a decade in which no single player emerged as a dominant star worthy of historical significance. So it is safe to say that no major winner during that time will be remembered with the same reverence and fondness accorded to Ballesteros and (probably) to Woods. In terms of F1, that seems unlikely. Prost, Senna and Schumacher have all been dominant enough over their peers to ensure immortality. It is the other issues that will ultimately determine their place in history.

On the three issues which I used to base my decision, I have one 'yea', one 'nay' and one 'undecided' - the classic 'hung jury'.

In the case of 'Will today's dominant drivers occupy the same honoured place in history as the legends of yesteryear?', the Atlas F1 court finds the case 'Not proven'.

In this case, as with all Court cases, there is no clear answer. If there was, there would be no premise for a case in the first place. Any court case is determined by the presence of doubt, two sides to the story, and compelling arguments (however theoretical or hypothetical) to support either side. This case has produced compelling arguments that touched on the central issue without providing a compelling and all-important 'future scenario'. However, as always in the Court, the debate has produced thought-provoking and informed opinion from both sides of the spectrum. That, far more than any judgement, is the central idea and benefit of this Court.