GLOBETROTTER

Time to rattle a few cages

Racing drivers are by nature extraordinary creatures, with extraodinary self-belief and considerable energy and ambition. Without this they would not have made it to Grand Prix racing. They would not have enjoyed the fruits of their success without always thinking that next year will be better. They all believe that although the younger guys may be faster, and more willing to take risks, but they believe that they still have the edge because they have experience on their side.

Being a Formula 1 journalist is supposed to be about telling it how it is. Not being afraid to say what you think. Sadly, there is not enough of this these days. F1 journalists do not like upsetting people for fear of being denied interviews and so on. There are so many control freaks around the paddock that few dare to speak their mind. But is that what the public wants?

The fans want opinions. They want to know what it is that we talk about when we are having lunch in the F1 paddock.

There are also personal reasons why having opinions is a difficult business. I remember a very sad period when I felt obliged to point out that one former World Champion had gone on for way too long and should quit. As a result we ceased to enjoy the same pleasant relationship that had gone before. I felt it was my duty to readers to say that the time had come. He felt betrayed.

Team owners are by nature gamblers but they tend to be very conservative because it is either their money that they are risking or it is their position within a larger company. It is safer to have a former winner on the books rather than a novice. If the winner fails you can always blame him, but if the novice fails, you will get the blame - a thought that Renault's Flavio Briatore may be having at the moment.

One of the reasons that racers go on and on (in addition to the fact that they love doing what they are doing) is that they often have a certain amount of trepidation about what they will do when their life in Formula 1 comes to an end. It is a difficult time in the life of any successful sportsman as they need to find other things in life that give them the same satisfaction and the same purpose. For some of the racing drivers of today it a particular problem because they know nothing apart from the sport, having started karting when they were still boys.

They are all wealthy but money is not the thing. What they need is a purpose in life.

I find it rather sad that Michael Schumacher is coming back to the Grands Prix after so little time away. I find it similarly sad to see David Coulthard, now the oldest man in Formula 1, getting into trouble on the circuits.

In Monaco David was penalised for ruining Heikki Kovalainen's qualifying effort - and thus his whole weekend - by blocking the Finn at a crucial moment on Saturday. And then in the race DC started the day by running into the back of the Toro Rosso of Tonio Liuzzi, who looked for a few hours like a man who has finally made his breakthrough in F1. The accident at the first corner stopped neither man but a lap later Liuzzi's rear tyre punctured and he crashed into the wall at Massenet. It looked like he had made a mistake and all but those who were looking very closely will have concluded that an error had been made. As a result of these two incidents two promising young drivers have not been able to show how good they are. And the sad reality is that reputations in F1 are almost always decided on the results achieved and not on how they were, or were not, obtained.

There seem to me to be a number of older drivers who just seem to be hanging on. They have had their chances and are not doing much. Back in the old days there was the ever-constant threat of death and injury in F1 and so no-one planned for anything. When one man died he was replaced by a another. It was sad but that was how it was. It was in the same spirit as the pilots of World War II. Those days have disappeared. It is now 13 years since an F1 fatality. It is a very long time since an F1 driver suffered injuries that stopped him racing. One cannot say this is a bad thing. Safety measures, said the late Denny Hulme, may not be very exciting, but having them is better than going to funerals every Tuesday after races.

It is not the first time that F1 has been backed up with older drivers. And then at one glorious French Grand Prix there were no fewer than five F1 debutants on the same day: Emanuele Pirro, Eric Bernard, Jean Alesi, Martin Donnelly and Bertrand Gachot. They did not all go on to become race winners but those who were there will tell you what a wonderful breath or fresh air it was and when Alesi finished fourth on his debut the walls of F1 began to crumble. Within a year a whole new generation had arrived.

Today there are nine of the 22 drivers who are over 30. Most of them have had a fair chance to win races and make lots of money. None of them has ever won a World Championship. They have all done more than 60 Grands Prix and some of them are well into the 200s.

The only World Champion and all the World Championship challengers this year come from the younger group.

I like many of the older men very much and I will be sad to see them go, but I feel that the sport needs to move on.

It is time for some more cages to be rattled.

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