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From shooting star to falling star or journeyman


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#1 Racer.Demon

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Posted 27 January 2004 - 20:01

With Jos Verstappen's management playing out the final chapter of the How Not To Negotiate Your Way Into A Formula One Seat textbook, and seeing Vicuna's thread on "solid" GP drivers, I was reminded of a certain type of drivers who were once "the next best thing" to happen to F1 or "the next Moss/Clark/Lauda/Prost/Senna/etc." but drastically failed to live up to their junior-category promise.

Of course, Verstappen is a prime example, being hyped over the moon in 1993 on the back of his meteoric single-seater career and amazing F1 test times, before going on to live out a GP career that was at best "solid" before suffering degradation to backmarker and even pay driver.

You could think of Magnussen, Modena, Baldi, Corrado Fabi, Lammers, Capelli, Bernard, Zonta, Lamy, and Heidfeld and Pizzonia as the latest examples. (You could also mention Herbert and Lehto, but their reasons are obvious.)

Some shooting stars who once seemed a certain bet for stardom didn't even get their GP break. Ayari was regularly called the new Prost during his season of cleaning up the French F3 championship. Pantano used to be this magnificent Italian hotshoe but his career is stalling. See it on a bigger scale and there are drones of national F3 champions who simply went forgotten.

Why did they fail? Was it the hype? Are F3000 or F3 simply bad judges of potential F1 quality? Was it a psychological thing? Was it a lack of technical knowledge? A lack of involvement in the teams they drove for? Did they pick the wrong team at the right time?

In other words, why is it so easy to fall from grace?

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#2 Ralliart

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Posted 27 January 2004 - 21:02

I remember a quote from ON TRACK, very early in his career, when Vincenzo Sospiri was called "the new Jochen Rindt"! Also, Oscar Larrauri got his fair share of hype early on.

#3 philippe7

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 08:01

Does Jenson Button qualify yet ? ;)

#4 Racer.Demon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 08:19

As for being hyped into F1 and going backwards from Williams to Benetton/Renault to BAR, I can see your point, Philippe! :D

This is really something that started in the age of commercialism (mid-seventies at its earliest). I'm hard pressed to think of examples from the sixties and before. You could say that Baghetti had a "reverse" career but then he wasn't hyped into Grand Prix racing to start with...

#5 Holger Merten

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 08:37

As you may remember, I started this thread about Jos last year.

I think it's not only a managment problem. I know some F1 managers of German f1 drivers (it's not Willy Weber). And I know what they do to push their guys. For those German examples it's not a managers problem. It's also, what does the driver do, to have a really good image?

What we can't see or read is for example, how good is a driver talent as testdriver. Does he like to work hard for success. And so on. So the scene in F1 is very small, and it doesn't need a long time to get your image as a talented driver. But it needs more to get the image of a top driver.

Which never means that success will open doors to the top teams. Look at Villeneuve. Nobody want's him in the team.

#6 Darren Galpin

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 09:22

The issue for a lot of them is over-hype in the junior years, and the equipment level you get. Take Zonta for example - got himself into the factory Mercedes GT team with a car head and shoulders above the rest, and was partnered with the experience Klaus Ludwig - it would be difficult not to win. He had an awful lot of retirements during his single seater years, even when he was winning championships. I have a little bit of bias here though. I had a friend in Sao Paulo who could regularly beat Zonta in karts at tracks like Granja Viana. I raced my friend there, having never driven twin engined karts, nor raced at such high speed before, and still got within a second on a 1 km track doing 58/56s laps. This is not to put me forward as a lost talent - I know that I am not good enough. It's just that being in the right place at the right time does an awful lot for a driver of average ability, and any modicum of success these days is portrayed as demonstration of a "Potential World Champion".

#7 Peter Morley

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 09:34

Originally posted by Holger Merten
As you may remember, I started this thread about Jos last year.

I think it's not only a managment problem. I know some F1 managers of German f1 drivers (it's not Willy Weber). And I know what they do to push their guys. For those German examples it's not a managers problem. It's also, what does the driver do, to have a really good image?

What we can't see or read is for example, how good is a driver talent as testdriver. Does he like to work hard for success. And so on. So the scene in F1 is very small, and it doesn't need a long time to get your image as a talented driver. But it needs more to get the image of a top driver.

Which never means that success will open doors to the top teams. Look at Villeneuve. Nobody want's him in the team.


Seems the teams are more worried about image than results these days - how else can you account for Coulthard's continued presence.

Villeneuve made the same mistake as Irvine, both had very nice comfortable places where they weren't expected to produce great results, and were very highly paid, and they insisted on opening their mouths and saying how wonderful they were without producing a lot of proof.

There are plenty of other drivers out there who will produce similar results without all the whining (and some of them will even pay for the privilege), there is probably more competition for drives than there is on the race track these days.

As you say many of them will put a lot of effort into testing (M.S. particularly so), problem these days is some teams prefer to tell the drivers how to set the car up on the basis of their computer (particularly the team running the 'radical nose' simialr to the Eiffelland March!), that is why they like the kids who have not got much experience or ideas of their own.
Fortunately M.S. has shown that there is still space for a driver to have some involvement in the car's setup, shame that more teams don't see it that way.

I always thought that one of Verstappen's problems was the number of cars he damaged, he used to get a lot of TV coverage (in Tyrrell days at least) - usually when the car was facing the wrong way or racing alongside the tarmac!

#8 uechtel

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 10:51

Originally posted by Racer.Demon

Some shooting stars who once seemed a certain bet for stardom didn't even get their GP break. Ayari was regularly called the new Prost during his season of cleaning up the French F3 championship. Pantano used to be this magnificent Italian hotshoe but his career is stalling. See it on a bigger scale and there are drones of national F3 champions who simply went forgotten.

Why did they fail? Was it the hype? Are F3000 or F3 simply bad judges of potential F1 quality? Was it a psychological thing? Was it a lack of technical knowledge? A lack of involvement in the teams they drove for? Did they pick the wrong team at the right time?

In other words, why is it so easy to fall from grace?


Is that relly true?

I think the reason is something different. The total sum of F3 / F3000 champions (of major series) alone amounts about 6 or more. Other "natural" candidates are of course the runner-ups plus winners from other series plus other qualificants (pay-drivers, champ-car-champs, etc.), so I think the number of 10 "promising" talents for Formula 1 per year .

Put that into correlation to the number of a Formula 1 field today. So if any of them would indeed get a Formula 1 drive they would have an average time of 2 years as Formula 1 driver, certainly much too less to make a real impact. And that is only if all cars were equally competitive (and if all drivers were allowed to win by the team orders). If you take only the "real" teams into calculation (and maybe one or the other midfield surprise) that has to be reduced even to one half of that, as I don´t think that anybody can become famous for longer than the moment by simply driving the hell out of a Toyota [Prost, Arrows, Minardi, Jaguar...] to finish in 9th place again and again while points are reserved for the top teams only.

So in contrast what IS the situation in Formula 1? How long do those drivers usually remain there, who really leave their marks there? I think 3 to 5 years at minimum to develop into a real star.

Or how often can there be "newcomers" in the line-ups of the top teams? Not counting the swapping of already established drivers (like for example Button from Williams to Benetton) the number of "free" cockpits of the five top teams of the last five years (I took the teams, that were good enough to win races for this: Ferrari, Williams, McLaren, Benetton, Jordan) totally amounts to 10! [yes, you can argue my choices, but then choose others as you please]

The "newcomers" into these teams were

"solid" choices of already well-established drivers:
Zanardi, Barrichello, Alesi

"pay drivers":
Sato, Firman

"promising" talents:
Montoya, Räikkönen, Alonso, Trulli, Button

- only two "undeserved" sign-ups in five years! And five times "real" talents given a chance!

But of course in the same time about 20 or so aspirants were claiming (or claimed) to be "Formula 1´s next coming star". So what should the teams do? Fire Schumacher, Montoya, Räikkönen to give talents like Verstappen a chance?

And I don´t want to say, that he wouldn´t have desereved it. I really think Jos (for example) is really as good as the rest (he proved that many times in the past). So certainly this had been no "hype" about his talents, I think it´s simply a matter of the sheer number of aspirants, so only a few can get into the cockpit they deserve.

#9 Racer.Demon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 11:02

I agree it's a simple case of numbers most of the time, but that doesn't answer the question that still intrigues me - why did some fail while other similarly hyped drivers did live up to their promise?

And I don't think the "talent will always come shining through" cliché would do a good job in explaining the phenomenon...

#10 petefenelon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 11:13

The modern F1 car is almost completely unlike anything the driver will have encountered on his way up. The electronics mean that F1 now is basically about reaction times rather than mechanical sympathy; "development" consists largely of droning around to see which horrid treaded tyres/aero bits/combination of software go fastest (and probably feel worst), and "racecraft" in F1 now isn't about the traditional skills of shadowing the guy in front, working out a passing place, selling him a couple of dummies over a few laps and then slipping past - it's about blocking and weaving if you're in front, intimidating into corners if you're behind. And anyway, it's more about being able to do quick out laps after your pit stops than race anyone on the track.

And remember, the difference between the best and worst contemporary F1 cars and drivers is only a few per cent, and most of that's the car - the driver doesn't make all that much difference these days.

I don't think you actually have to be a particularly good driver to excel in F1. Fitness, willingness to work hard, ultra-quick reaction times and a bankable sponsor are more important than racecraft, instinctive feel for what the car's doing, and the ability to think in broad terms about how the car's behaving and how to improve it.

I doubt Jimmy or Stirling or Gilles would like these glorified go-karts that corner on rails, have far too much done by computer, and can't run close because of 'dirty air'. Modern F1 penalises the "seat of the pants" driver, the true racer.

#11 BRG

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 11:23

There do seem to be some common themes when you look at shooting stars that faded out.

Firstly, every promising French driver (except Prost and, inexplicably, Panis) in the last 15 or more years has vanished after making almost no impact on F1. And this despite all those Elf and Renault ladders of talent and one or sometimes two F1 teams with avowed "French national team" credentials.

Then there is a similar (though thankfully less pervasive tendency) with Italian drivers. Throughout the life of F3000, it has been heavy with Italian drivers, yet few make an impact on F1 - look at all those "nearly men", like Larini, Bodoer, Sospiri etc (not to mention Trulli and Fisichella ;) ).

Why should France and Italy produce so many apparently good prospects but so few WDCs or even race winners? It's a mystery.

As for those flattering to deceive at present, can I nominate Mark Webber as the next hyped driver who will end up slipping quietly out of sight?

#12 petefenelon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 11:45

Originally posted by BRG
There do seem to be some common themes when you look at shooting stars that faded out.

Firstly, every promising French driver (except Prost and, inexplicably, Panis) in the last 15 or more years has vanished after making almost no impact on F1. And this despite all those Elf and Renault ladders of talent and one or sometimes two F1 teams with avowed "French national team" credentials.

Then there is a similar (though thankfully less pervasive tendency) with Italian drivers. Throughout the life of F3000, it has been heavy with Italian drivers, yet few make an impact on F1 - look at all those "nearly men", like Larini, Bodoer, Sospiri etc (not to mention Trulli and Fisichella ;) ).

Why should France and Italy produce so many apparently good prospects but so few WDCs or even race winners? It's a mystery.

As for those flattering to deceive at present, can I nominate Mark Webber as the next hyped driver who will end up slipping quietly out of sight?


What about Alesi as a French driver who made an impact?;)

Interesting - look at the structures of French and Italian racing though - they were historically both countries with very closed national racing scenes, same with the German scene until Schumacher came along, but the British single-seater scene was always full of guys from all over - natural selection weeded out a lot of British drivers earlier in their careers than Frenchmen, Italians or Germans.

In Elf (and later the Ministry of Truth, Love and Peace - or whatever the hell they called it!) used to back a lot of drivers through the early, cheap stages of their careers, and for a while in the 70s F2 was a French playground - F2 had always had a strong following there, there were good French F2 cars and the Renault engine... so the generation of comingmen before Prost grew up competing internationally in F2 and in Matra or Renault sports cars.

French domestic racing at some point in the late 70s all went pear-shaped. Matra's sports cars had gone, Renault went into F1 taking their F2 engines away, and pulled out of sports-car racing... what was left through the 80s was a fairly weak national scene that majored on tintops. The production line of well-backed drivers was shorter, and spewed them into F3000 where most of them were competing against.... other well-backed but modestly talented French and Italian drivers ;) F3000 in the late 80s/early 90s may have had big grids, but relatively few stellar drivers - anyone just a bit better than the mob could get an F1 break (Comas? Bernard? Lagorce? - and later the likes of Sarrazin....)

Italy, well, squilions of 23-year olds competing in karting events and then straight into F3 round twisty little circuits with the odd blast at Imola/Monza/Mugello. Wild men used to going wheel to wheel, with a lot of seat-of-the-pants stuff but not a great deal of technical insight. The Italians could almost always find money to go up into F3000 or straight into F1. In F1 many of them sank without trace because they went into crap backmarker teams, but (to paraphrase Dame Edna Everage) "at least they could say they've been there". The F3000 lot - well, again, it was them vs the heavily-funded French drivers, for the most part. Except, for a while, some of the Agip money and more importantly some of the Agip jungle-juice F1 trickled down into F3000, and the combination of silly budgets and silly fuel made quite a few fairly ordinary F3000 tuggers look like the greatest bloody drivers in the world. And when they got into F1.... they were shown up as mediocre.

The German scene used to be negligible until Schumacher Sr. got into F1; the Merc Juniors programme and the profile of their F3 series sky-rocketed through the 90s so they're now a force to be reckoned with (and in fact their F3 series has eaten the French one).

The British scene - well, for some reason we always got the South American guys coming over too. So any British driver who actually did well against the best of the guys to come out of Brazil or wherever (where they'd also served a hard apprenticeship!) was bound to be pretty good - I think that (and lack of sponsorship money) is why we've had proportionally less British drivers breaking through into the F1 through the 80s/90s, but those that have done have generally been pretty good - they had to be to beat the South Americans.;)

Japan was a wild-card - they'd send their own guys over on a raft of Yen, but that brief period in the late 80s/early 90s when JF3000 was a free-fire zone full of money, high-tech tyres and European drivers was interesting - if ever there was a "Junior F1" then I'd argue that JF3000 at its highpoint was it.

#13 Darren Galpin

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 12:39

Sorry Pete, but I have to disagree with you about one thing - reaction times have very little to do with driving modern F1 cars.

Although modern F1 drivers may be quick, their reaction times aren't necessarily any faster than yours or mine. What they are better at doing is prediction - they manage to react to a car before things start to be noticible.

This was shown quite graphically in a program by Jeremy Clarkson of all things, on a tennis court against Greg Rusedski. When he served fast, Clarkson simply couldn't move in time to hit the ball, yet a 60 year old bloke with slower reaction times could - the bloke was a tennis coach though. There was also another program (possibly Horizon) which looked at drivers by monitoring where their eyes were pointing when driving. The driver was always looking far ahead of where he was, and was predicting what would happen - you simply can't react quick enough to handle a modern single seater if you are relying on reactions alone.

#14 Racer.Demon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 13:05

Originally posted by petefenelon
Interesting - look at the structures of French and Italian racing though - they were historically both countries with very closed national racing scenes, same with the German scene until Schumacher came along, but the British single-seater scene was always full of guys from all over - natural selection weeded out a lot of British drivers earlier in their careers than Frenchmen, Italians or Germans.

In Elf (and later the Ministry of Truth, Love and Peace - or whatever the hell they called it!) used to back a lot of drivers through the early, cheap stages of their careers, and for a while in the 70s F2 was a French playground - F2 had always had a strong following there, there were good French F2 cars and the Renault engine... so the generation of comingmen before Prost grew up competing internationally in F2 and in Matra or Renault sports cars.

French domestic racing at some point in the late 70s all went pear-shaped. Matra's sports cars had gone, Renault went into F1 taking their F2 engines away, and pulled out of sports-car racing... what was left through the 80s was a fairly weak national scene that majored on tintops. The production line of well-backed drivers was shorter, and spewed them into F3000 where most of them were competing against.... other well-backed but modestly talented French and Italian drivers ;) F3000 in the late 80s/early 90s may have had big grids, but relatively few stellar drivers - anyone just a bit better than the mob could get an F1 break (Comas? Bernard? Lagorce? - and later the likes of Sarrazin....)

Italy, well, squilions of 23-year olds competing in karting events and then straight into F3 round twisty little circuits with the odd blast at Imola/Monza/Mugello. Wild men used to going wheel to wheel, with a lot of seat-of-the-pants stuff but not a great deal of technical insight. The Italians could almost always find money to go up into F3000 or straight into F1. In F1 many of them sank without trace because they went into crap backmarker teams, but (to paraphrase Dame Edna Everage) "at least they could say they've been there". The F3000 lot - well, again, it was them vs the heavily-funded French drivers, for the most part. Except, for a while, some of the Agip money and more importantly some of the Agip jungle-juice F1 trickled down into F3000, and the combination of silly budgets and silly fuel made quite a few fairly ordinary F3000 tuggers look like the greatest bloody drivers in the world. And when they got into F1.... they were shown up as mediocre.


Very interesting views on the French and Italian scenes there, Pete, and I can go along with them just fine. Many of their champs flattered to deceive and had a "national" path laid out in front of them right up until F3000 and the French and Italian F1 minnows that still existed at the time. The disappearance of those F1 minnows disrupted the flow coming from France and Italy, and in the end destroyed F3000 (which thrived as a result of all those French and Italian teams) and their national F3 championships. F3000 is the worse for it. Indeed, look at the mid-seventies glory days of F2 - France and Italy again.

As regards the British drivers being weeded out because of taking on the world (particularly the South Americans) in their local F3 championship, you still have the likes of Kelvin Burt, Oliver Gavin, Jonny Kane and Marc Hynes for whom winning the British title equalled to instant obscurity!

Ah yes, Japanese F3000 and the gai-jins - that period matches the best seasons of F2 in its quality and variety. I somehow suspect that GP2 won't make those days return...

As for Mark Webber - he is lucky to be in this position in the first place! There was a time when he was part of the perenially underfunded, overlooked crop of British F3-bred English-speaking racers of whom Autosport would say that they were "disgracefully dismissed" by team bosses who "fail to take notice, as usual". Well, not quite. IMO, his reputation is based on the fact that the Stewart/Jaguar team has never been able to field two equal cars. The lack of results in the long line of fine drivers occupying that seat (Magnussen, Verstappen, Herbert, Burti, De la Rosa, Pizzonia, Wilson) is far too obvious not to come to that conclusion.

#15 petefenelon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 13:14

Ahhh.... Magnussen. Canonised out of existence by JYS, I reckon. Jackie was saying he was the greatest thing since Senna, Jackie was saying that primitive laser beams emitted from Jan's eyes, Jackie was saying that Jan could levitate at will, Jackie was saying.....


....and the boy wasn't even mediocre. I wonder if he started believing the hype?

#16 Racer.Demon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 13:37

Originally posted by Doug Nye
My pal Alan Henry once wrote of Innes Ireland that he was the kind of driver who probably wouldn't get a sniff of a Formula 1 drive in 'the modern age'. In Jos Verstappen there seems to be a driver who could have shone quite prominently in 'the nostalgic age'....


I believe this DCN quote in Holger's thread about Verstappen applies to Magnussen too...

#17 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 13:45

Originally posted by Darren Galpin
The issue for a lot of them is over-hype in the junior years, and the equipment level you get. Take Zonta for example - got himself into the factory Mercedes GT team with a car head and shoulders above the rest, and was partnered with the experience Klaus Ludwig - it would be difficult not to win. He had an awful lot of retirements during his single seater years, even when he was winning championships. I have a little bit of bias here though. I had a friend in Sao Paulo who could regularly beat Zonta in karts at tracks like Granja Viana. I raced my friend there, having never driven twin engined karts, nor raced at such high speed before, and still got within a second on a 1 km track doing 58/56s laps. This is not to put me forward as a lost talent - I know that I am not good enough. It's just that being in the right place at the right time does an awful lot for a driver of average ability, and any modicum of success these days is portrayed as demonstration of a "Potential World Champion".


Im quite a keen follower of the junior ranks and unfortunately ive not yet found a driver where I couldnt find an 'excuse' for his results/speed. Which is a bit discouraging because surely the whole show isnt smoke and mirrors. Then again if I somehow won the lotto maybe I could use the system to my own ends...

The example I like to use is Nelson Piquet Jr. His father obviously has some money, but he also has his own race track. So he sets up an F3 team just for Half-Neslon, gives him 10,000km of testing before his first F3 race which takes place mid-summer of 2001. He wins the Sudam F3 championship (which isnt terribly competitive juts based on the results of your site) in 02, and does Brit F3 with some race wins in 03 with the intention to do another year this season. Now basically the guy was a 'rookie' as of Round 1 at Donnington this past season but he had more F3 mileage than most guys get in their F3 careers.

A slightly less manufacutered example is Mclaren protoge Lewis Hamilton. Picked up at an extremely young age (12 or 13 wasnt it?) and fully supported ever since then. Now he is definately living up to the expectations, but it comes down to a what-if for me. What if you gave every other driver his level of support financially, what if you gave every other driver a seat at the absolute top team as team leader. What if you took every other driver and removed the doubt and frustration over having to find funding for their careers. Where would Hamilton be then? Where would Piquet Jr be?

There's a certain amount of luck and/or connections in the success in any endeavour, not just in racing. But I more and more wonder if its possible to artificially create it now in racing. Granted there needs to be a certain amount of driving 'talent' present, but if you took a decently comitted decently intelligent driver from a random single seater series (*cough*) and threw an insane amount of support behind him on and off the track, how far could you force him through?


The reference to South Americans by an earlier poster is another interesting (yet extremely controversial if we ever go into it) aspect. How is it a country that is so behind economically, with such restrictions on money leaving the country, able to consistently and adequately fund drivers at every level of competition? Brazil may be F1/racing mad, but I doubt you get a lot of sponsorship return for that podium at Oulton.

#18 petefenelon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 14:12

Ross says:

The example I like to use is Nelson Piquet Jr. His father obviously has some money, but he also has his own race track. So he sets up an F3 team just for Half-Neslon, gives him 10,000km of testing before his first F3 race which takes place mid-summer of 2001. He wins the Sudam F3 championship (which isnt terribly competitive juts based on the results of your site) in 02, and does Brit F3 with some race wins in 03 with the intention to do another year this season. Now basically the guy was a 'rookie' as of Round 1 at Donnington this past season but he had more F3 mileage than most guys get in their F3 careers.


Ah yes. With those two the race definitely starts the moment the regs are issued.

When Piquet jr was racing in F3 back in his own part of the world, there was a strict testing ban on F3 cars.

Oddly enough, a 2 litre Dallara sports prototype did a lot of testing in the off-season - consisting of nothing more than Nelsinho's F3 car with the flimsiest little carbon-fibre cycle-wings over the wheels.

You have to admire them for ingenuity if nothing else...;)

Nelsinho seems to have inherited his father's sunny disposition and pleasant attitude too; I can't quite forgive the slagging-off he gave to Croft.

#19 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 14:18

Unfortunately I missed that round on TV. I did however catch his dramatics in the garage at Oulton and dirty looks to his girlfriend after stalling on the grid (from pole) and then driving into the safety truck.

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#20 Holger Merten

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 14:19

Why are you talking about talented F3 drivers, coming to F1 and get no real chance? Think about Olivier panis, I'd like his way in the late 90s when Olivier was good enough for a good race. Did he ever get a chance in a Top Team. The answer is no. Does anyone has a reason (without his fatal accident). :|

#21 Ross Stonefeld

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 14:43

What was the impression of Panis 10 years ago? The reason I ask is because a lot of the times the stats of a CV need to be backed up by the raw impression. I didnt really start following junior level racing until really the 1997 season when the internet started to wake up. So guys prior to that I can only look at their results and a guy like Panis seemed to take a somewhat slow route through the juniors. On paper at least he didnt look like a star so I wonder what the gut feeling of him was at the time.

I wonder a lot about that gut reaction. I get into arguments a lot in RC over two drivers of similar results but I think one guy is a overrated fast-tracked badger and the other is an underrated undiscovered megastar.

#22 Bart

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 15:19

Originally posted by Peter Morley
Seems the teams are more worried about image than results these days - how else can you account for Coulthard's continued presence.

Of course, silly me, Ron Dennis doesn't want to win any championships -- he'd rather his team had a great "image" by employing a driver whom everyone claims is a waste of space. Could it be perhaps that Coulthard had two very good seaons in 2001 and 2002, and his race pace was on par with his teammate's in 2003? Could it be that Dennis doesn't see anyone obviously better who is available?

But, to keep on topic, I seem to recall that Jean-Christophe Boulloin was hyped by Sir Frank when he was Williams test driver (much like Pizzonia it seems), but did next to nothing at all when he raced for Sauber. Sato, of course, is the current wunderkind for whom great things were predicted prior to entering F1 (I think uechtel's description of him as a "pay driver" is kind of harsh). Next year is clearly make-or-break for him given what's expected of the BAR-Honda and Button's apparent form.

I think, sadly, much of it is luck. Who you get teamed with in your first year of F1 (and, more importantly, what people think of him), and how seats in bigger teams open up. Fisichella, for example, won a race in 2003, but failed to comprehensively destroy Firman (whom many rated to be slightly better than Yoong) and that no doubt hurt his chances. Of course, last year's Jordan was probably so bad that to elevate it from the penultimate grid row, as Fisi did, was probably a feat of genius, but that only meant qualifying 2-3 spots ahead of your teammate. That's not noticed compared to Webber sticking the Jag on the second row.

#23 petefenelon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 15:27

Originally posted by Ross Stonefeld
What was the impression of Panis 10 years ago? The reason I ask is because a lot of the times the stats of a CV need to be backed up by the raw impression. I didnt really start following junior level racing until really the 1997 season when the internet started to wake up. So guys prior to that I can only look at their results and a guy like Panis seemed to take a somewhat slow route through the juniors. On paper at least he didnt look like a star so I wonder what the gut feeling of him was at the time.

I wonder a lot about that gut reaction. I get into arguments a lot in RC over two drivers of similar results but I think one guy is a overrated fast-tracked badger and the other is an underrated undiscovered megastar.


I don't think he was ever seen as a future World Champion, put it that way. He was a good but not stellar champion in F3000 (back then the DAMS drive was seen as a fast-track to the title), and his F1 career started off steadily at Ligier. I think he always had the potential to be a Patrese, a Boutsen kind of figure - steady and good for a couple of wins. His qualifying performances tended to be poor relative to his racing ability.

I think Olivier improved with time, and were it not for his accident in '97 I reckon he would've got into a bigger team or helped Prost become one... perhaps becoming a sort of Coulthard "eternal title outsider".

I was there at Monaco in '96, and although I hadn't been terribly impressed by his first couple of seasons at Ligier I must say that Panis actually looked better than his car right through qualifying. I didn't think a win was on the cards, but I certainly thought he'd improve a lot on his qualifying position, even round the streets....

He was bloody good in the Prost-Mugen-Bridgestone in '97 until he broke his leg - I think that set him back a long way, then being enslaved at Prost can't've done him much good. I think Ron Dennis was seriously clever putting him in as a test driver - (a) he'd got a lot of F1 racing experience and (b) Ron was keeping a potential race winner out of the hands of the opposition.

These days I think he's... well, just a little stale and past-it. I hope he can round off his career with Toyota successfully, though if truth be told I like Panis a lot more than Toyota, their ethics bother me.

#24 Holger Merten

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 15:33

Thanks Pete for that review on Panis. That's nearly the way I have him in mind.

Look at Ralph Schumacher. Since six or seven years in F1, but far away from being the champion . Otherwise the team believes in him. That's what most of other drivers never get. A real chance.

#25 uechtel

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 15:53

Originally posted by Bart


Sato, of course, is the current wunderkind for whom great things were predicted prior to entering F1 (I think uechtel's description of him as a "pay driver" is kind of harsh). Next year is clearly make-or-break for him given what's expected of the BAR-Honda and Button's apparent form.

I think, sadly, much of it is luck. Who you get teamed with in your first year of F1 (and, more importantly, what people think of him), and how seats in bigger teams open up. Fisichella, for example, won a race in 2003, but failed to comprehensively destroy Firman (whom many rated to be slightly better than Yoong) and that no doubt hurt his chances. Of course, last year's Jordan was probably so bad that to elevate it from the penultimate grid row, as Fisi did, was probably a feat of genius, but that only meant qualifying 2-3 spots ahead of your teammate. That's not noticed compared to Webber sticking the Jag on the second row.


Well said :up:

And excuse me for putting Sato in the wrong category, kind of unfairness from my side to him. Of course I remember now, that he was in the group of the very promising talents a few years ago. So that makes even six of them in the last five years against only one "pay" driver!

And don´t be so harsh on them either. If you take a closer look they really don´t take away the chances of everybody else (sometimes they even help to finance the career of a "poor" talent) and usually they get those cockpits, which otherwise would spoil the career of even more of the promising drivers...

#26 Uwe

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 16:03

Originally posted by Holger Merten
Look at Ralph Schumacher. Since six or seven years in F1, but far away from being the champion . Otherwise the team believes in him. That's what most of other drivers never get. A real chance.

Not to get into a discussion about today's drivers but I think you are a bit harsh on Ralf. Nearly all drivers have been far away from being the champion during the last seven years. And to be fair, the only year Ralf was beaten by Juan Pablo was in 2003. In 2001 and 2002 he was on par with him even if his driving style was completely different from Montoyas spectacular style. And I can remember some very good performances from Ralf in 1999 and 2000 when the Williams was definitely no winning car.

Uwe

#27 Holger Merten

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 16:18

Uwe, don't missunderstand me. I just wanted to show how hard it is to be top. And how necessary it is to have a team. that believes in you, although you are not the WC. And at the end of the grid, it will get harder and harder. Especially for young talents coming in F1 about the second lane teams.

#28 BRG

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 17:48

Originally posted by Bart
Firman (whom many rated to be slightly better than Yoong)

Yes, but that was the usual Readers' Comments type of dismissal of a driver of whom they hadn't heard. One hopes that on TNF, people might take a longer term view and recall that Firman is a former British F3 champion and F. Nippon champion. Not a future WDC, of course, not by a long chalk, but way ahead of Yoong (who barely managed a podium in F3, let alone a race win).

#29 Arjan de Roos

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 19:32

How many times didnt we read an interview, in which drivers tell that if this or if that had not happened, they wouldnt know where their career would have gone... Its sometimes the luck some have that others miss.
Also some drivers simply do not adapt in a different class, many drivers come from go-karting into racing cars (e.g. Michel Vacirca WC karting 1982) and dont feel comfortable at all and fail. This also happens when drivers climb into a higher category. Or the opposite happens, they look nowhere in F3, but somehow get in F1 and flourish (some do only after 3-4 $eason$ of F1).

#30 Don Capps

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 19:53

Consider the case of C.A.S. Tony Brooks: wins at Siracusa at the end of 1955, crashes mightily at Silverstone in the BRM in 1956, another crash -- at Le Mans -- in 1957, and folks were almost writing him off by early 1958. A most underappreciated driver and one whose presence and performances are too often overlooked.

With much of the discussion centered on contemporary sorts, perhaps this should be moved.

#31 Racer.Demon

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 20:12

Don puts forward an interesting case there - and one before the age of commercialism. But those crashes - it's similar to Johnny Herbert, isn't it? There was lots of promise, there was a huge bang, and the promise was gone.

(Agree on the problem of, erm, very recent history discussed here, Don, but I'd say the nineties are well and truly history by now, especially when taking RC's average memory span in mind. I'd also rather talk about the likes of Corrado Fabi or Mauro Baldi.)

#32 Mac Lark

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 02:33

At the other end of the scale are Mansell, Keke, Damon and Alan Jones.

I don't think KEKE ever so much as started a F3 race, a category in which Nige, Damon and AJ hardly set the world on fire in.

Noige looked OK in a handful of F2 races but I don't know if AJ ever featured in that category!

Yet they all have 2 major things in common.

In the past, for every Thackwell, Magnusson, South and Kelvin Burt, there have been guys who's F1 careers only really got under way on the wrong side of 30.

#33 Racer.Demon

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 08:35

Indeed the other end of the scale. I believe that in today's climate Mansell would have taken the biscuit long before he got his Williams break...

Those two major things would be willpower and the ability to bullfight big-horsepower F1 cars? (Whereas F3 cars are nimble sissy cars?)

#34 Frank de Jong

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 10:42

Originally posted by Mac Lark
At the other end of the scale are Mansell, Keke, Damon and Alan Jones.

I don't think KEKE ever so much as started a F3 race, a category in which Nige, Damon and AJ hardly set the world on fire in.

Noige looked OK in a handful of F2 races but I don't know if AJ ever featured in that category!

Yet they all have 2 major things in common.

In the past, for every Thackwell, Magnusson, South and Kelvin Burt, there have been guys who's F1 careers only really got under way on the wrong side of 30.


Keke was a very good SuperVee driver (at the time an alternative for F3); AJ did very well in F Atlantic.

#35 Peter Morley

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 10:50

Originally posted by Bart

Of course, silly me, Ron Dennis doesn't want to win any championships -- he'd rather his team had a great "image" by employing a driver whom everyone claims is a waste of space. Could it be perhaps that Coulthard had two very good seaons in 2001 and 2002, and his race pace was on par with his teammate's in 2003? Could it be that Dennis doesn't see anyone obviously better who is available?

But, to keep on topic, I seem to recall that Jean-Christophe Boulloin was hyped by Sir Frank when he was Williams test driver (much like Pizzonia it seems), but did next to nothing at all when he raced for Sauber. Sato, of course, is the current wunderkind for whom great things were predicted prior to entering F1 (I think uechtel's description of him as a "pay driver" is kind of harsh). Next year is clearly make-or-break for him given what's expected of the BAR-Honda and Button's apparent form.

I think, sadly, much of it is luck. Who you get teamed with in your first year of F1 (and, more importantly, what people think of him), and how seats in bigger teams open up. Fisichella, for example, won a race in 2003, but failed to comprehensively destroy Firman (whom many rated to be slightly better than Yoong) and that no doubt hurt his chances. Of course, last year's Jordan was probably so bad that to elevate it from the penultimate grid row, as Fisi did, was probably a feat of genius, but that only meant qualifying 2-3 spots ahead of your teammate. That's not noticed compared to Webber sticking the Jag on the second row.


1) Certainly McLaren have recently given the impression they aren't that bothered about winning the championship.
They still get the publicity, more than enough money, contracts to build road cars etc etc, and it is sometime since they were serious championship contenders (last year had more to do with the revised points system (and tyres) than it did with McLaren improving).

Does anyone really think Coulthard is their best bet - of course you should always retain 1 driver from last year, but there was no danger of Mika 2 leaving, so why not replace DC with someone who might make an effort, or might turn out to be exceptional. They could have tried 5 different drivers (for a whole season) by now and possibly found a real talent (if it is possible for talent to show in current F1)

Perhaps I answered my own question, maybe McLaren accept that driver talent is of very little importance in F1 these days?

2) When you look at F3 drivers the thing to do is also to look at the team.
If you were driving for the Stewart F3 team (at the time the best funded team by a long way, current equivalent is presumably Carlin) you should have won most the races - car setup in F3 is vital (restricted power makes setup even more important than in F1).
If you win most the F3 races in the very best car you might be a good driver (De Ferran etc show that it doesn't mean you are great) - Sato is in this position now.
If you aren't very successfull in the best F3 team then forget it.

Looking at the guy who is 2nd is sometimes a better idea - walk away champions tend to have the best equipment (MS is a case in point), if someone driving a less well prepared car can keep up then he is worth looking at.

The driver I worked with in F3000 raced F3 with Brundle & Senna, he told me that Brundle's car was perfectly flat & smooth through bends, whereas Sennas was moving around and clearly not well setup.
There is then the story of how much quicker Senna went when he tried Brundle's engine at the end of the season.
If they had been in each other's cars their F3 results would have been very similar to their F1 results.

3) Cars at the back of the grid tend to be much harder to drive, so as you say there are driver's there performing great feats (probably far in excess of those at the front) and they will never be recognised for that.
Look how well Salo went when he was given a front running car, or Webber when he got a slightly better car.
Some who start out driving front running cars (Coulthard, Villeneuve) seem to give up far more readily when they get a poor car. Those who started at the back of the grid tend to have a lot more respect for their position if they end up in a decent car.

#36 Peter Morley

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 10:57

Originally posted by Racer.Demon
Don puts forward an interesting case there - and one before the age of commercialism. But those crashes - it's similar to Johnny Herbert, isn't it? There was lots of promise, there was a huge bang, and the promise was gone.


Not totally, when he 1st tested the Benetton he went quicker than Cobblers.
From then on he was never given access to Cobblers telemetry, who of course had access to his.

As we all know MS insists that his team mate is not allowed to beat him, so having every opportunity to do so taken away from you does not help you look good.

Of course the damage to his leg did not help Johnny's performance either - it would be OK for a few laps, but over a race distance it was too much.
Maybe if he'd had more recovery time it would have looked better - but he still wouldn't have been allowed to beat the superstar (except for those 2 famous oversights!).

#37 Mallory Dan

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 11:57

Peter, who was the driver you worked with in 3000, I'd be interested to know. In 83, AS and MB were streets ahead of the rest.

#38 Roger Clark

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 12:25

Originally posted by Don Capps
Consider the case of C.A.S. Tony Brooks: wins at Siracusa at the end of 1955, crashes mightily at Silverstone in the BRM in 1956, another crash -- at Le Mans -- in 1957, and folks were almost writing him off by early 1958. A most underappreciated driver and one whose presence and performances are too often overlooked.


Originally posted by racer.demon
Don puts forward an interesting case there - and one before the age of commercialism. But those crashes - it's similar to Johnny Herbert, isn't it? There was lots of promise, there was a huge bang, and the promise was gone.



Is this a different Tony Brooks from the one I have heard of? I realy wasn't aware of anybody writing him off.

#39 Lipp

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 12:31

Talking about a crash, if Verstappen would not have been put on the grass by a reckless and not looking in his mirrors Eddie irvine (who was being lapped by Verstappen) then Verstappen would have scored two or three points in his first GP, and his story could have been a whole lot different... Add to that the pitfire whilst running in the points in Germany and a different story emerges... Verstappen got only one lucky break, and that was when he was asked by Honda as a development driver, and they did perform, but we all know what happened... I also can remember Ken Tyrrell resigning earlier than was anticipated because Verstappen was ditched from the (at that time just sold) Tyrell team, he said that Verstappen had great promise and, when was he ever wrong?

But that is all in the past. :| I do not think that Verstappen will be doing a Panis.



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#40 Racer.Demon

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 12:35

Originally posted by Roger Clark
Is this a different Tony Brooks from the one I have heard of? I realy wasn't aware of anybody writing him off.


Don did say "almost"... :D

Anyway, he remains a very underrated driver up to this day. Would be interesting to see whether this is a more recent fabrication or something that started as early as Don is implying.

#41 Bart

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 13:15

Originally posted by Peter Morley
Perhaps I answered my own question, maybe McLaren accept that driver talent is of very little importance in F1 these days?

Well, I think everyone would agree that the car (chassis+engine+tyres) is more important than the driver in most cases, even if the reliability factor is excluded. But it's essential to get the most out of the car, and I imagine part of what encourages Ron Dennis to keep DC is his allegedly very good development work, which is especially important when you have a young guy in the other car. Ron Dennis isn't an idiot and while he was prepared to ditch DC for JPM, he clearly wasn't interested in Fisi or picking anyone from the lower ranks, or promoting Wurz.

Some who start out driving front running cars (Coulthard, Villeneuve) seem to give up far more readily when they get a poor car. Those who started at the back of the grid tend to have a lot more respect for their position if they end up in a decent car.

I disagree with this statement. Fisichella, who has never driven a really good car, gave up midway through last season, whereas I don't think DC has ever given up. He handled the dog of a McLaren well in 1996 and continues to race for an entire season even if he's out of contention (of course, in such cases, he's usually under team orders). Villeneuve lost interest last season because of the lack of reliability more than the quality of the car.

#42 Peter Morley

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 18:17

Originally posted by Mallory Dan
Peter, who was the driver you worked with in 3000, I'd be interested to know. In 83, AS and MB were streets ahead of the rest.


Mario Hytten - he had the lowest budget F3000 team ever (whenever he was out of the car Mario was on the phone chaisng sponsors!).

Sometime ago I saw a programme about Senna that showed one of his British F3 races and Mario was the guy in 3rd place behind those two.

In F3000 Mario even featured on BBC news - the report on the Birmingham street race showed the winner plus Mario crashing out!

By the way, Mario's brother Simon was doing Ayrton's publicity (Simon is a graphic artist) in our F3000 days.

#43 Roger Clark

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Posted 29 January 2004 - 18:41

Originally posted by Racer.Demon


Don did say "almost"... :D

Anyway, he remains a very underrated driver up to this day. Would be interesting to see whether this is a more recent fabrication or something that started as early as Don is implying.

As far as I know, Tony Brooks was very highly rated throughout his career, and never remotely considered a journeyman (alright, possibly the very last year). It is history that has treated his reputation unkindly, but not with those who know.

#44 petefenelon

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Posted 30 January 2004 - 01:19

Originally posted by Peter Morley


Mario Hytten - he had the lowest budget F3000 team ever (whenever he was out of the car Mario was on the phone chaisng sponsors!).


Gawd, I remember that Lola Mario drove - the one based on an Indycar chassis, where you could barely see the top of his head poking out of the cockpit.

That car can't've been much cop, the weight distribution must've been very odd with a tiny little tank and a DFV in the back instead of all that turbo malarkey and a load of methanol!

#45 Mallory Dan

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Posted 30 January 2004 - 14:06

peter/pete, the awful Lola T950, looked like a tank, and about as manoeuvrable. I think only 1 ever scored a point all year, may have been J-M Fangio III. Was this the car Mario ran with you Peter ?

#46 Peter Morley

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Posted 30 January 2004 - 18:12

Originally posted by Mallory Dan
peter/pete, the awful Lola T950, looked like a tank, and about as manoeuvrable. I think only 1 ever scored a point all year, may have been J-M Fangio III. Was this the car Mario ran with you Peter ?


No I worked with him in 86 when he had a Ralt.
In 85 he mainly ran a March 85B (came 2nd at Donington), which he started 86 with.
He drove the Lola tank once, at Silverstone in 85 (seems most drivers only drove it once!)

#47 masterhit

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Posted 30 January 2004 - 19:00

A lot of Ferrari and Williams drivers over the years had their careers ruined by a bad spell for whatever reason.

It is a hard sport, and as we have seen most recently with Jaguar, seems to be getting harder - contracts mean little if the results are not forthcoming quickly, if the team do not have faith in the driver.

When you think about it, only one in seven or so of the drivers competing in any given year are arguably of the right stuff - sometimes just one or two tend to make it.