The art of fibbing
JANUARY 25, 2012
I had afternoon tea with Sir Frank Williams two weeks ago. We had a long chat about his team, past and present; about F1 and how it has changed. Being Sir Frank, the rose-tinted spectacles were kept at a distance. Yes, he does enjoy anecdotes about the good times - and there have been many when your team has won 113 Grands Prix - but his focus is unfailingly on the future.
Sir Frank is a realist. He is the first to accept that win number 114 is unlikely to occur any time soon and it pains him just as much to look back as far as Brazil 2004 to find the last one. But you can never dismiss or ignore his enthusiasm for the season ahead. It was like that the first time I met him in December 1977, Frank’s nervous energy fizzing with thoughts about how the new car - indeed, the new regime - would work as he contemplated the first race.
Nothing has changed in that respect because Williams goes into 2012 with a revamped technical department and fresh thinking about how the race team should be run. And then there’s the drivers.
During the course of our hour-long chat, I slowly steered the conversation towards the identity of the Williams drivers in 2012. I may as well have tried asking the FBI for their email password.
Frank did confirm what I already knew (Pastor Maldonado will be in for a second season) and he then launched into a warm and genuine discourse on the merits of Rubens Barrichello as a racing driver and a valuable member of any F1 team. Experience with Frank led me to note that he didn’t actually refer to Barrichello being useful to HIS team in 2012. Nonetheless, I came away believing Rubens had to be in with a shout. You’d think I’d learn.
Two days later, Williams announced Bruno Senna.
Even allowing for the most rapid negotiation in the history of F1, that deal had to have been done days - weeks, probably - before I sat down to my tea (milk, no sugar) with the boss. I could only shake my head and smile. I’d been through this before. Nearly 30 years ago, in fact.
In 1982, Derek Daly drove for Williams. I had the pleasurable job of ghosting Daly’s weekly column for a Dublin newspaper. We get to the final round in Las Vegas and Derek’s continuing tenure with Williams is in doubt. Naturally, the newspaper wants this first-person column to have the inside line on the future chances for Ireland’s hoped-for first World Champion.
I go to Frank and, choosing my moment carefully - after all, he is trying to win the 1982 championship with Keke Rosberg - I explain that Daly and I need to write this column and not look stupid. Could he therefore give me an off-the-record heads up on whether or not Daly would be staying? Frank said Daly was looking good for Williams in 1983. At least, that’s what I thought he said. In fact, knowing what I know now, he didn’t say it exactly.
The column goes to press with Derek confidently saying the future with Williams looks secure and how happy he is. On the same day - no less - a rival Irish newspaper quotes a reliable source in France as saying Jacques Laffite is in the frame to join Williams and our man is out on his backside.
I won’t repeat the content of a subsequent call from our newspaper’s sports editor, except to say that he thought I would be better off looking after the donkeys on Dollymount Strand, or some such place on the Irish landscape.
Deflated and outraged, I confronted the perpetrator soon after with the naive plea: “Frank; how could you do this to me?” He gave me that sheepish but winning grin, turned his palms upwards and agreed he’d told a little fib. “Sorry Maurice,” he said. “I had to.”
Daly, ever the pragmatist, was neither surprised nor upset. He hadn’t driven well all season, the step into the front line having proved too much too soon in a career that needed quiet rebuilding after a series of shunts with Tyrrell the year before. Basically, I got no sympathy.
It was a hard-earned lesson, one which I recalled with a chuckle when news of Senna’s signature came through. At least this time we’d had a nice cup of tea and a wonderful chat while Frank applied economy of truth at the appropriate moment.
Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.
His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.