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NOVEMBER 1, 1993

Young Guns


A new era is dawning in Formula 1, regenerating the sport and producing a new age. The hugely paid mega-stars of the greedy 1980s are now thin on the ground. These are men who have made perhaps US$60 million in their careers, which have lasted 10 years or more. Formula 1 is not as dangerous as once it was and so they have stayed longer and look at the sport as a business rather than a sport.

With the retirement of Alain Prost, only Ayrton Senna remains of the superstars of the late 1980s. Nelson Piquet has left F1 and severely damaged his legs at Indianapolis; Nigel Mansell has gone off to Indycar racing and does not look like coming back. Prost is disillusioned and bitter with the governing body and has decided on a quieter life. In the late 1980s, to be honest, the rest were also rans and many of them are still hanging around F1, although the arrival of new boys is now thinning out the older generation.

The new generation, however, has yet to really assert itself. The only new star to approach the same kind of status as the old stars is German Michael Schumacher. He is quick and has yet to get his hands of truly competitive machinery, which will show whether he is champion material. He certainly looks good. At the same time Jean Alesi is waiting in the wings, still to win a race but ready if the famous Italian team can put together a good enough car for him.

Jean was F1's shooting star of 1990. There is a new one every year. This season everyone was talking about Rubens Barrichello, last year it was Mika Hakkinen and in 1991 Schumacher. More than anything it is a question of image. Great talents like Erik Comas and Gabriele Tarquini do not go away, their careers merely lose momentum and they quickly find themselves in second rate machinery. So much of F1 is about image. There are however signs of a new order emerging.

"A new wave of drivers is coming in F1," says Alesi. "There is Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and myself. We are all very competitive. We do not want to cancel out what Mansell, Senna, Prost and Piquet have done, but we are less political. We are fighting drivers and we love to be on the race track and fighting together. This new generation also brings a new way of working with the media, because when you have Michael, Mika and me you don't have some of the strange stories of the others.

"What we like is racing and because of that a new F1 is coming."

So who do the team bosses of today think will be the stars of tomorrow?

McLaren's Ron Dennis will not name names, but he will explain why: "It is not because I don't have views, it is because any team owner can, by way of expressing honest views, supplement to or detract from a young driver's career. I have a strong desire to see young drivers succeed, but I think the best way to contribute to that is through our contribution to the McLaren/Autosport Award scheme, which sees impartial people making an assessment of a young person's performance and giving support in the next step of their career.

"It would be inappropriate and unfair for me to base an opinion on a driver as the result of reading motorsport magazines, because so often a driver's performance is linked to the competence of the team and his equipment."

Lotus's Peter Collins is another who will not say who he reckons are the stars of tomorrow, despite being well-known as a talent-spotter. What Collins will say is that he doesn't a new Senna. "Senna combines intelligence with skill, passion, animal cunning and shrewdness. He has a combination of many things and he is very focussed. I think he ranks with some of the great divers in motor racing history, alongside Jim Clark or Juan-Manuel Fangio. He is a unique individual and the next great driver to come along will not necessarily have the same attributes in the same proportions as he does.

"It's very difficult to say who the stars of tomorrow will be because equipment plays such an important role in F3000 and F3. One has to know what to look for; one has to attend races and watch the way people drive.

"I think there are a number of over-rated people in F1 who are being cited as stars. There is a lot more to it than just the odd good performance."

Ken Tyrrell has opinions and will say what he thinks: "I think what we have seen of Rubens Barrichello this year indicates that he is going to be a frontrunner in the future. I also think young Christian Fittipaldi is good."

Ken adds his current driver Ukyo Katayama to his list: "Almost certainly he will be the most successful Japanese driver," he says optimistically.[QL]

"Perhaps we have to look to some of the Formula 3000 runners as well. There are several potential GP drivers there: Gil de Ferran seems to have the sort of talent required and so does Pedro Lamy, but you never know if you have another Prost or another Senna until they have actually taken part in Grands Prix. It's one of the problems of recruiting young drivers, you don't know if they are going to take to F1 until they are in it."

Frank Williams does not claim to be a great talent-spotter and yet this year his team has made Damon Hill a minor star - scoring three wins in his first F1 season.

"All I ever really do is look at race results on an annual basis," says Frank. "I see who has won the most races in any category. I have an 18-year-old son who is infinitely better informed than I am about this sort of thing.

"I tend to wait for guys to emerge rather than follow them."

"In F1 now I like the look of Karl Wendlinger, JJ Lehto, Barrichello and Hakkinen. All those guys could be good, but you never know until you put them in a winning car. Outside F1 I think David Coulthard is very good. He's a natural. Paul Tracy is hot. He's either like Gilles Villeneuve and going to have a big one or he could be brilliant.

"I am told Emmanuel Collard is pretty good too and could be terrific one day, but he hasn't done anything this year. That's F3000 for you, you have got to have the right equipment and the right guys running the show."

Eddie Jordan, as always, is willing to talk ad infinitum on any subject and drivers are no exception.

"Schumacher, Barrichello and Hakkinen will be very strong and I have a great belief in Alesi if he is properly handled and looked after. Wendlinger seems to be doing a good job and Lehto has his days. It is difficult to equate Damon Hill because he doesn't have as much time as the others.

"If I say someone outside F1 is going to do well, other people will start looking at him.

"And," he adds with a smile. "Why should I find stars for other people?"