Columns - The Youth of Today

Evolution (or growing old gracefully)


Rest assured, dear reader, that not once throughout the coming months shall I bemoan the return of traction control to Formula 1. If I were so to do then I would indeed be the biggest hypocrite since those funny fellows I heard about in my Religious Education classes who went around the Gaza Strip disapproving of Jesus.

(And yes, you're right, I didn't pay much attention in RE. I'm afraid that Middle Eastern ecclesiastical and ecumenical matters of the First Century held less of a hypnotic sway on my hormonally powered teenage mind than Mary Cooke in classroom F4).

Anyway, when we arrive in Spain I shall be sitting in a state of monastic acquiescence as the elders of the pressroom are eating their own tongues in apoplexy. At the sight and sound of Michael Schumacher burying the throttle before he's even arrived at the apex of the Seat hairpin, thereby letting the F2001 drive itself onto the back straight, I shall merely smile a lobotomized smile.

My reasoning is this: I can leave my house and travel the 34 miles to Silverstone Circuit in a time of 32 minutes in either of my two cars. Both are Fords, both are three-door coupes. One was made two years ago and is essentially a humble Fiesta in a Paul Smith suit, boasting a 1.7-liter engine with traction control, which was renamed Puma.

The other was made 20 years ago and is essentially a plebeian Cortina in a snakeskin jacket and matching boots that was renamed Capri, intended to be Europe's answer to the Mustang but hijacked instead to become Britain's blue collar Ferrari. Mine is the king of the breed with a rumbling 3-liter V6, for which traction control comes from terrorizing the driver into behaving himself.

Despite the disparate ages and engine sizes it comes as no real surprise that the two generations of Ford passion wagons get from A to B in identical time. The little Puma pushes out 125 times the power of a horse, weighs in at 1039kg and reaches 60mph in under nine seconds whilst its forebear boasts throbbing 140bhp but carries 1170kg and balances it all nicely to reach 60mph half a second before its feline niece.

The thing is, though, that in a Puma the Silverstone journey is something of a sleep walk. You arrive feeling a bit dismissive of everything because, if you can rattle through a few winding country lanes at a good old lick whilst concentrating more on the day's events as broadcast on BBC 5 Live than the approaching S-bend, then nothing is going to excite you.

Make the same trip in the Capri and you arrive looking like you've been clubbing in Ibiza every night for a year. You're drenched in sweat and your eyes are on stalks, you hug everyone and attack life with vim and vigor because, for the last 32 minutes, every corner could have spelt doom. Altogether it is a more rewarding experience but day-to-day it emphatically isn't a practical one.

That's why I can sit and benignly await the Second Coming of gizmos because it's the same with Formula 1 cars. When the Capri was 'the car you've always promised yourself', Formula 1 cars were then, as now, 3-liter machines - but put Mika in an M29 and Michael in a 312T5 and there'd be no more victory leaps and conducting the national anthem on the podium from those two. They'd be absolutely goggle-eyed and frothing at the mouth with exhaustion and stark terror.

Old Ferraris and McLarens do still take to the track, however, to potter round for a few laps with the rest of the cars of their era and word has it that they will be on the supporting bill for this year's British Grand Prix. If indeed they appear I shall admire them and all that they were and feel very enriched by their continued existence.

But I shan't bemoan the fact that they are no longer the cars on which I must write race reports, just as I know that even if Kurt Cobain were still among us Nirvana still wouldn't be making records together in 2001. After all, Niki Lauda no longer embodies the wail of a Ferrari or Alfa V12, he's a middle manager in Ford Motor Company.

Neither shall I arrive at Silverstone in a state of enraptured dishevelment because by then the Capri will, like a Ferrari T5, be put back in the fond memories of my childhood. It was the car I always promised myself and I kept that promise, albeit 20 years too late. My wrestling with modernity is at an end and I'm going to hand the old girl on to her fourth owner to cosset and occasionally potter around with the rest of the remaining cars of her era.

The sunny days on which it has only ever been driven will happen when I'm getting off an aeroplane in a foreign field to write about Formula 1. When I get back I need to have a practical, functional vehicle in which I can sleepwalk my way through every bend because it has traction control. And if I can live without the old days, then so can Formula 1.