MAURICE HAMILTON

Giving something back


The latest video race edit by formula1.com does the usual slick job of summarising the Belgian Grand Prix. There was so much going on that it can't have been easy to distil 44 dramatic laps into 3 minutes 21 seconds.

There was a lot to cover, from the collisions at the first corner to Webber's amazing move on Alonso into Eau Rouge (I still can't believe that happened) and a telling glimpse of the relief on Adrian Newey's pallid features at the end of it.

In all the excitement surrounding the usual key players, it was easy to overlook Felipe Massa, who had qualified fourth (ahead of Alonso for only the second time,) but finished eighth. The waste of such a golden opportunity is caught twice in fleeting clips of Massa's engineer, Rob Smedley, giving vent to his frustration on the pit wall, the desperate moment when Smedley's man dropped from third to fifth producing a flow of invective, the fruity content of which was fortunately disguised by the Englishman's regional accent.

These highlights, by their very nature and the intensity of the subject, encourage the view that F1 is a ruthless, fiery, angry business driven by a rage to win and an abhorrence of losing. There's a lot in that but, behind the scenes, there is also camaraderie and sense of belonging that rarely creates headlines. 'Man likes Man' doesn't sell newspapers, particularly when associated with such a macho sport.

Evidence of this F1 fellowship came to light last Friday when Smedley travelled back to his native north-east of England to headline a Grand Prix dinner and auction in aid of a local charity.

Rob and his wife, Lucy, campaign for Zoe's Place, a hospice in Middlesbrough for babies with life limiting or threatening conditions. The genuine warmth and sense of gentle care within this voluntary establishment are about as far removed as it's possible to be from the powerful dynamic of a F1 paddock. But the numbers are comparatively large, Zoe's Place needing £1m per year to run; an annual government grant of just £200,000 leaving a critical shortfall.

Smedley, in his engagingly forthright manner, tapped into the F1 seam of solidarity and came up with exceptional contributions from Force India, Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes, Williams, Virgin and, of course, Ferrari. In total, the auction raised in excess of £40,000; an extraordinary sum in these difficult times and in a region suffering more than most from the recession.

The most popular item was a trip from the UK to tour the Ferrari F1 facility in Maranello, enjoy an overnight stay and have lunch in the homely Montana restaurant (favoured by team members rather than the more commercialised Cavallino opposite the factory gates).

A telephone bid from the United States was soon left behind by serious offers from the 230 guests. In fact it was so close in the end that the bidder who came second offered to match the winning bid of £7,800 if the host - in this case, H. R. Owen - agreed to another two people joining the party. The prestige car dealer generously and readily concurred. Zoe's Place was immediately up another £7,800.

Interesting to note that Heikki Kovalainen's race suit fetched more than the overalls worn by Paul di Resta during the Malaysian Grand Prix; a sign, perhaps, of the pulling power of Lotus green and yellow. But if you're talking colours, then anything Ferrari Red generates massive interest. The signed flameproof vest worn by Fernando Alonso to win last year's Italian GP fetched £600; his gloves from the same race reached £950. (And, yes, the underwear had been washed..)

"People have been incredibly generous, not just with the fantastic donations but in the way they've put their hands in their pockets," said Smedley. "F1 really has risen to the occasion even though, in all honesty, this is about showing that there's more to life than the business we love and are fortunate to be a part of. This has been about using our position to put something back for such a great cause."

It would be nice, would it not, if Massa could get himself onto the podium this weekend for the first time in 2011. Even better if he could win. His engineer would be a lot happier than two weeks before - and not just because of the result. Felipe's gloves could do a lot of good for a quiet but happy hospice in a totally different world to the mayhem of Monza.

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.

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