Columns - The Youth of Today

Maranello Dreaming


There are those who have said to me that, without the manic hullabaloo of 2000, Michael Schumacher seemed a bit, well, flat after winning his fourth world championship. I might have been entirely wrong, but I rather think that the lack of hysteria in Hungary belied a deeper satisfaction in the world champion.

The desperate need to win against the standard-setting Ayrton Senna, through the bitter rivalry with Damon Hill and against the burdens of expectation and failure at Ferrari has gone.

With Williams still finding its way back to consistent form and McLaren undoing a sublime year's work by David Coulthard, this year's dominant form has been the reward Schumacher and Co. sought for the long years of work put in to their complete rebuilding of Ferrari, and you have to doubt that they'll have it so good again next year.

You choose to dedicate your days to this sport certainly not, in most people's experience, for the cash. In Michael's case he now has so much cash, of course, that money has long since ceased to matter to him - every bit as much as it does to the majority who seldom have any.

Neither do you go into motor sport for its compassion - for anyone who has been around for any length of time has known someone who has been ruined by it in some way.

Devoting the kind of time, energy and attention that motor sport in general demands - never mind the potential for financial insecurity and personal disaster - requires one thing: passion.

At the bottom end of the scale, I may be earning less than half of almost all my friends and working twice the hours, but I do not have to put on a suit and begrudge the working day.

My work is my pleasure, I met the mother of my child through motor sport and, should I not be able to afford to eat, one of my better paid friends in the real world will always invite me round to a dinner party.

Yet possibly the greatest example of that passion at the heart of all things racing we have seen this year, though, is the signing of Jean Alesi by Eddie Jordan.

I well remember the Birmingham Superprix F3000 race when I first saw the two together, having missed the International Trophy at Silverstone due to academic encroachment.

Almost half the time the yellow Reynard appeared to be airborne, the other half of the time it was locked in a full-blooded power slide.

It was a restorative weekend, one where motor racing gave as great a pull on my heart strings as when I was a child, and there were two great influences on my life: my parents and Ferrari.

First Niki Lauda and then Gilles Villeneuve were loved and honored like my own flesh and blood but then everything went a bit flat - with the notable exception of Rosberg's 160mph lap at Silverstone.

Then came Birmingham in 1989. Here was a talent that was so ebullient it reminded me of exactly why I loved racing so much, and he was driving for the team on whose forecourt I had earned pocket money polishing racing cars, and of whose proprietor everyone I knew had a good story - and a good word.

It seems that the pairing of Jordan and Alesi may only be a temporary one; a last hurrah for one of the purest racers of them all who has seldom been at the right place at the right time - least of all Ferrari.

When Nigel Mansell ruled the world in a Williams so advanced that it has since taught biochemistry at Oxford, the twin-floor monstrosity that was Ferrari's F92A was without doubt the work of Satan.

Yet through the then-4g left-right-left-right of the Maggotts/Becketts complex in qualifying at Silverstone it was quite possibly the most spectacular Grand Prix car ever built.

Despite having all the handling prowess of a '59 Cadillac on three flat tires it was an experience to behold the ways in which it tried to twitch, lurch and even hurl itself into oblivionÉ and so too was the way its occupant remained undefeated.

Lap by lap though those gloves perched atop the steering wheel, managed to counter the Ferrari's every insanity, the V12 shriek never wavering, the driver's head thrown into each corner with the same commitment on his way to an eighth place in didn't have any right to dream of.

History will not be kind to Alesi's decision to turn down Williams for his love of Ferrari when anywhere from between one and six world championships might have fallen his way in that Renault-Newey era of domination.

But then he would have simply driven through Becketts in 1992 as though he were on rails without forever earning the admiration of all who ever loved motor sport.

The championship may well be over, but there will be much to enjoy in the handful of races that remain and performances up and down the field to fuel that passion for racing that we all haveÉ though some will always have more than others.