Columns - The Youth of Today

Hats off to Bob Williams, Grand Prix legend


On the way home from the Jordan launch I did something of which I could never previously have believed myself capable. I bought a Robbie Williams CD.

I've long had a sneaking admiration for the bloke. Anyone who goes up to collect an award and thanks the panel for his two mansions, three sports cars and supermodel girlfriend, then sends lilies to a rival chart-topper when their album bombs deserves a bit of encouragement. Musically though, Sinatra Lite never really appealed to me before.

Then came the launch of the EJ11 and, before the big event, the video for Robbie's latest single was playing on the big screens. Why? Because it's a three-minute movie featuring the battle for the 1971 world championship between Jackie Stewart and a certain Bob Williams.

Now then, I've looked in every single volume of the Inside F1 library and I can't find a trace of this chap anywhereÉ yet there he was on film in glorious, grainy Technicolour. As JYS and Ken Tyrrell talk deedily in the pits, there's Bob outside his caravan with some bird in a bri-nylon skirt. The drivers swap nervous glances on the grid, anticipating the chaos when the starter's dropped his flag, then after the race he joins Stewart on the podium.

No mistake, he was there all right, larger than life and looking not a little like Francois Cevert. It must have been a hell of a season, for Jackie and Bob were matched race for race, sideburn for sideburn, beanie hat for sailor's cap. It's all there - as is the nausea-inducing sight of a charred rear wing rising from a sea of flame, Bob Williams' lifeless body being stretchered away as Stewart arrives to castigate the officials.

Williams made a miracle recovery, however, in time for a championship showdown in Monaco, only to get locked in his caravan's lavatory and miss the race, thus handing the title to Stewart. All this is complete hokum of course. Robbie ÔBob' Williams wasn't even born when JYS ruled the world, but as an artistic and technical exercise the video makes Forrest Gump look like the work of a first year film student.

The song is, admittedly, a dodgy remake of Gloria Gaynor's ÔI Will Survive', but nevertheless I bought a copy to reward all concerned for their efforts on celluloid. The thing is that the more I hear that song, the more I can't help but think what a gift those video producers have to give modern Formula 1.

Let's face it, the performances of Formula 1 drivers outside the cockpit are the weakest link in the show, although they'll be the first to admit that they never wanted to be public speakers. Now however, teams can just choose their leading man, put them in a race suit and film them celebrating, commiserating and delivering killer one-liners against a blue screen before the magicians at Bernievision blend them into the show on pay-per-view. It gets my vote any day.