Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Grand Prix

I mentioned in a comment a few days ago that I had recently watched this film again on DVD, and had been rather blown away by it.  I first saw it at the cinema in my home town of Monmouth at some point in the early or mid-70s (a re-release; it first came out at the end of 1966), and it was shown on the BBC two or three times over the subsequent decade.  I suspect it was largely responsible for my lifelong fascination with motorsport.  For a film which I've only seen two or three times in my life (as a child; the last time, I think, some 25 or 30 years ago), it is astonishing how many scenes and lines of dialogue are vividly etched in my memory.  Watching it again last Friday, I began to feel that it must only have been a year or two since I last saw it; and I began to eagerly anticipate scenes which I recalled would be coming up next.

Grand Prix is widely considered the greatest motor racing film ever made, and for good reason.  Director John Frankenheimer followed the F1 teams around Europe for much of the 1965 and 1966 seasons, and most of the driving in the film is done by the great drivers of the era (apart from a few very convincingly staged shots of the leading actors in the cockpit; apparently, they all had race-driving lessons so that they could safely get in the cars themselves, and James Garner showed some talent for the sport).  There's nearly half an hour of driving action in the movie, some of it excerpted from actual races, but much of it staged specially for the cameras - including some breathtaking extended in-car views which really bring home to you what an insanely dangerous sport it was back in those days (the cars were capable of up to 190 mph, but many of the circuits were still based on public roads; crash barriers and run-off areas were almost unknown - there were often trees, telegraph poles, or buildings right at the trackside).  Fans of the history of the sport can enjoy trying to recognise leading drivers of the day, and a number of them are name-checked during the race commentaries - Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Bruce McLaren, Guy Ligier.  Former World Champions Graham Hill and Phil Hill (no relation) have tiny cameo parts, under other names.

The film includes three spectacular crashes - really impressive technical achievements, in that they had to be set up 'for real', using actual cars rather than models (or CGI, as a contemporary treatment of the sport would no doubt resort to).  The opening double crash at Monaco is particularly well done (Yves Montand's later accidents at Spa and Monza are a tad feeble by comparison), and was partly inspired by an actual incident.  James Garner loses control approaching the chicane and flies into the harbour; the Australian driver Paul Hawkins had suffered a similar fate at the beginning of the 1965 season (the only other driver to go into the water there was the great Italian champion Alberto Ascari, a decade earlier; both came through unscathed, as does Garner in the film).  [Also, curiously enough, another key episode in the film was strangely mirrored in real life shortly afterwards.  In the Monza race, the French driver Sarti loses half a minute at the start when his engine stalls, but comes storming back through the field to challenge the race leaders again.  This might seem like an improbable Hollywoodization of the action: surely no driver could make up so much time so quickly on his rivals?  Well, the next year at Monza, 1967, the great Scots driver Jim Clark lost a full lap on his opponents after having to go into the pits with a puncture (no 5-second wheel changes in those days!!), but fought his way back to the front - one of the most amazing driving performances in racing history.]

While much of the racing action is stupendous, most reviewers seem to disparage the film's plot as melodrama, potboiler, soap opera.  I disagree.  I think it's an extremely sharp script, with many, many great lines in it.  (F1 fans will recognise that Yves Montand's grim words about having to steel yourself to drive harder when you see an accident were taken from the Argentinian maestro Juan-Manuel Fangio.)  I particularly love the aging champion's worldweary admission that he sometimes grows "very tired" of the racing, and the apparently emotionless break-up between the cocky young Italian driver (Antonio Sabato) and his sexy French girlfriend (a debut for the gorgeous Françoise Hardy, soon to become better known as a singer), where she gives him a chance to ask her to stay and he brashly declines to do so (though you suspect that neither of them is so indifferent about the other as they are trying to appear).  The love stories are interestingly contrasted, and all quite believable: a 'disposable' relationship between the two beautiful youngsters, a more mature affair between the reigning world champion Sarti (Yves Montand) and an American fashion journalist (Eva-Marie Saint), and the troubled marriage between a brilliant British driver (Brian Bedford) and his fashion model wife (Jessica Walter) who is driven to adultery by her inability to cope with having the man she loves risk his life in this way.

Nor does the film shy away from the darker aspects of the sport - the constant danger of serious injury or death (not just for the drivers, but for marshals and spectators as well), the distortion of personality that such a sport requires of its participants (an extreme single-mindedness that inevitably carries some taint of selfishness and ruthlessness, and puts a strain on personal relationships), and the ghoulish fascination with death that motivates many of the spectators.

No, I think it's an intelligent script and a very solid story, if perhaps a little self-indulgently over-long at 3 hours.  [A few SPOILERS here.]  My one serious reservation about the film is Garner's character, Pete Aron.  Presumably an American was given the central role to increase the film's appeal to American audiences, who might not be so familiar with Fomula One racing.  Garner, of course, makes him relatively likeable, but... he is much the least sympathetic of the three main characters in the film, and the least deserving of the championship title at the end (he just pips the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Sarti and the Brit Scott Stoddard, who've both missed much of the season through injury or mechanical failures, and the young Italian playboy Nino Barlini, who's been playing second fiddle to Sarti under Ferrari team orders, and has to retire from the final race when comfortably in the lead).  We can perhaps forgive him for dallying with Stoddard's estranged wife, but race fans will find it harder to countenance his behaviour in the opening race at Monaco: even if he's not culpable for the crash he's involved in (and the narrative logic, for me, breaks down rather in this sequence; however, he would appear to be at fault for braking very hard and very suddenly when his team mate is trying to pass him, and for subsequently losing control of his car [or deliberately moving over to block??] to trigger a disastrous collision), he's certainly to blame for repeatedly blocking his team mate for well over a lap (when he's already a lap down, and completely out of contention because of gearbox trouble) and even after being shown the blue flag which requires him to let the faster car past (and thereby risking disqualification).  After this display, it's hard not to concur with the wily Ferrari Commendatore (Adolfo Celi) that he's washed up as a driver.  His subsequent affair with the wife of the man he's helped to put in hospital further disposes us to view him as the 'bad guy', and to take little satisfaction in his eventual success on the track.  (It also seems rather odd that Aron goes into the pits to whinge about his gearbox problem, when there surely would not have been anything that his mechanics could do about it.  Although the race footage is fantastic, I find this whole Monaco sequence rather unsatisfying: I don't find the American driver's behaviour here plausible, or even very comprehensible.  It's the one conspicuously weak spot in a film that's otherwise impressively realistic in its presentation of the sport.)

This one - rather technical - quibble aside, it is on the whole a very good film; not just a very good motor racing film, but a very good film. It's an unusually frank depiction of the many varieties of romantic relationship, and of the psychology of men who pursue extreme sports.  Even if you hate motor racing, it's worth a look.  If you love motor racing, it's essential viewing.

Much of that remarkable race footage is available to view in isolation on YouTube: one almost-complete lap of the street circuit at Monaco, and lengthy sections of the old road-based courses at Spa-Francorchamps, Clermont-Ferrand, and Zandvoort.  I think this is the best of the lot, the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa... where it starts to rain.


Hopfrog said...

Just finished watching. Fantastic film. I can only imagine what an amazing experience it was, in its time, for those who first watched it in Cinerama theaters. I just love the growl of those old F1 cars too (well F3 cars to be technical). I was absolutely blown away by the racing footage and it clearly stands the test of time. The romantic sideplots, eh, but I suppose it had to be thrown in to keep one's date somewhat interested.

*Spoilers Alert*
I agree with a lot of your assessments, however, I do think your a bit harsh on Mr. Aron. He did lose his ride after Monaco and missed a couple of races, so I don't see why he is any less deserving, however, it was hard not to root for Stoddard at the end. Bravo to the filmmaker for not going the cheesy route by giving Stoddard the win. It made the film seem more 'weighty' to me and the closing scene more profound. The Monaco opening, yeah, I was befuddle when he pulled over to trade barbs in the pits, and equally bewildered that they had him, a lap down, blocking his teammate. I think one of the later lines of dialogue indicated that it was a mechanical problem that caused the brakes to lockup, and not over braking though.

Watching the camera pan from the actors face in the cockpit to the front of the car was pretty amazing. The director refused to use tricks like "speeding up the film" to recreate the speed, and what a payoff. Brilliant stuff. The actors did a wonderful job hiding their fear, because in reading about the film, apparently they were all terrified in the cockpits, save Garner. In fact, Bedford was too paralyzed with fear to reach the higher speeds and that explains why his face is completely covered by the headmask (I'm forgetting the proper name) in many of the scenes.

I've scene the movie poster many times over the years, promptly reminded myself to watch it soon, and I always thought Garner looked miscast and that someone like McQueen would have been better suited. I still think Garner's on screen persona is a bit too affable for and F1 driver, but overall, I thought he pulled it off.

I thought the film did an excellent job of addressing many of the issues surrounding motorsports and delivered some excellent writing that helped the viewer relate to these issues. The one thing I felt they missed the target on, though, was overplaying the angle that many of the fans come to see the wrecks. As a motorsport fan, I was bit sickened at the end when Eva-Marie held up her bloody hands screaming "is this what you came to see". They also seemed to imply, in a conversation between Yves and Eva-Marie, that the majority of the fans are there for the carnage. Please, if anything its a small disturbed minority who want to see these drivers get hurt. Most racing fans I know hate seeing that yellow flag go up, mainly because its brings the racing to a crawl.

Small quips aside, what a fantastic thrill ride and thank you for writing about it. It prompted me to finally view it, and I am kicking myself for missing out on this masterpiece all these years. Loved it!

Froog said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Hopfrog.

I hope it's only a minority of racegoers who are sort of actively hoping to see a fatal accident; but it is, unfortunately, a deep-rooted trait of human nature to be strangely fascinated by death and injury, and that probably was (still is, to a degree) an element of the appeal of motorsports. Certainly, crashes are part of the appeal, and we're lucky that we can 'enjoy' them without too much of a sense of guilt or dread these days, knowing that the drivers usually walk away completely uninjured. I felt sickened when I saw Kubica's spectacular prang in Canada on the live broadcast a few years back; but the guy was out of hospital the next day, with a light concussion and a twisted ankle - amazing the advances that have been made recently in driver safety. Back in the '60s, big crashes were usually fatal, and there might be two or three of them every season. In those days, it would be much less easy for spectators to enjoy the speed and the danger without acknowledging the likelihood that they might see a driver die; death was, unfortunately, an integral part of the sport. And many drivers over the years have commented sourly on the prospect of seeing a fatal crash being a draw for the fans - or at least for some of them. James Hunt famously said that he thought it was quite reasonable for people to come to watch him get killed, so long as he was being paid enough to take that risk.

It is a key - and difficult - issue for the sport, so I thought it was appropriate for the film-makers to address it so prominently here.

Froog said...

Garner/Aron's behaviour at Monaco bugged the crap out of me because I just can't see the racing professionals who acted as advisers on the film being responsible for that.

My assumption is that the film-makers felt they needed the pitting scene to underline that Aron's poor performance was down to a mechanical problem, and that this was not something that could be repaired, just something he'd have to try to 'drive around'. However, we had had quite a lot of useful racing background sketched in for us by the voiceover excerpts from pre-race interviews. I would have thought that one or two additional comments there would have explained the situation well enough for non-racing fans - but perhaps they didn't want to prefigure too much what was going to happen to Aron in the race.

Similarly, I suppose, the protracted blocking was intended to establish Aron's character as a particularly stubborn competitor (and also perhaps to emphasise the fact that it's primarily an individual rather than a team sport) - but, in the circumstances, it was heavily overdone. He surely would have got himself black flagged for driving like that; never mind what his team boss might have to say about it!

And perhaps the beginning of the crash sequence is purposefully 'garbled' a bit to leave the exact cause obscure, to create some uncertainty in our minds as to whether or how much Aron is culpabable. Again, I can see the merit of the idea: the causes of a crash are rarely black-and-white; and they were probably particularly obscure, and sometimes particularly contentious in the days before TV coverage when you were just relying on your own (or other people's) recollections of what had happened.

So - I appreciate the storytelling imperatives behind these decisions. I just don't feel that they quite worked. And that slight sense of incongruity became particularly jarring in the context of the remainder of the film which is extremely accurate and convincing in its portrayal of motor racing.

Hopfrog said...

I think your spot on there about the opening sequence. I never considered it, but yeah, they were probably trying to 'explain' it to the audience (after all, not everyone is an F1 nut) and also trying to establish how much of a competitor Aron was. But yeah, to an F1 fan, laughable to race your teammate a lap down.

Aside from that, I think the Monaco sequence was my favorite part. Amazing to see the layout hasn't changed the slightest bit. True, there isn't much wiggle room there, but I still couldn't help but marvel at how timeless a track it is almost 50 years later. Loved the highspeed stuff at Spa and Monza, but was sad to hear Nurburgring get only a mention as an already ran race. Loved seeing Brands Hatch make an appearance, one of my favorites.

I would love to see an updated version in IMAX theaters. Grand Prix I feel will be one of those rare gems that stays with you years later. I can't recall many other movies that felt that much fun.

Froog said...

I guess the problem with getting it in theatres again today is the super-wide Cinerama process they used to film it. I believe that involves three separate prints and three projectors, so it's probably rather tricky to transfer it into IMAX or any other contemporary format.

I read somewhere that Yves Montand had a bit of a crash while filming, and was too spooked to drive very fast thereafter. The same article said that Bedford's problem was more that he didn't have any aptitude for driving, period - couldn't even handle the gear changes on a Grand Prix car.

It is uncanny, and rather sad, how much Bedford/Stoddard looks like Jim Clark.

Ruby said...

"Congratulations - you are now qualified to read and comment on my Grand Prix review."

Thanks Froog, I will get that DVD back to you soon!

I have one world for this one - awesome! I loved every minute of it, especially the race scenes. As someone too young to have seen any of this era of racing live, I am in awe of the way they drove these cars, the tracks they were driving on and the absolute lack of any form of safety! They really were putting their lives at risk every time they got behind the wheel. People say Schumacher is a great driver (I don't agree) but he can only drive the way he does because he knows the safety features in place make it very unlikely he would get injured at all. Look at Webber's crash earlier this year, over the top of another car, upside down and walked away without a scratch! Send Schumacher back in time to race against Fangia and I doubt he would be in the same league at all.

It was great to see the old footage of Monaco. I was just there for the first time last Christmas and I walked the track. It was amazing I recognized the whole city based on watching F1 races!

I loved the race footage, but I've seen similar fototage before, my Dad races classic cars in NZ and I grew up in the pits at the tracks and road races. He and his friends would often set up a video camera in the car to record what they see. Ok, they're not racing F1 cars, but purpose built saloons from the 50's and 60', but with a little current technology under the hood they go pretty fast! Our street tracks had more safety that those on the DVD, but the Targa Rally's were pretty similar tough. I'm actually jealous of my brother who got to co-drive with Dad on his last Targa NZ rally, I would love to do that next time he enters.

I'll definitely be trying to track down a copy for my Dad's Christmas present and will be looking forward to watching it again with him! Thanks again Froog for bringing this one to my attention!

Froog said...

Now, now - I don't think there's any arguing with Schumi's greatness. Certainly he proved himself head-and-shoulders above anyone else of the '90s generation of F1 drivers. It's impossible to compare across eras because cars, tracks, and style of racing are all so different; but most aficionados of the sport - even if they don't much like him - seem to concur in putting him up amongst the giants of the sport: Nuvolari, Fangio, Jim Clark.

It's hard to say whether drivers drive any harder because of improved safety. And Schumi started out in F1 in 1991, when a lot of the current safety features were still a long way in the future (most notably HANS, which only came in 6 or 7 years ago). He's had a few bad crashes, including the one at Silverstone that cost him a world title when he had to miss a quarter of the season with a broken leg. I don't think there's any way they can make cockpit noses strong enough to preclude any possibility of leg injuries if you go into a barrier hard. You can never completely preclude the possibility of a bit of debris flying at a driver's head - as we saw in Senna's fatal accident, and in Massa's crash a season or two back. And - even with HANS - it's not completely 'safe' to plough a car into a solid barrier or flip it upside down: Webber this year and Kubica a few years back have had big accidents where they were very lucky not to smack their heads on a fence or something. The risk will always be there; and I'm afraid it's more or less certain that there will be another death in F1 one day.

There might have been an element in the old days of some drivers holding back just a little bit at times, because they were aware of the danger (and maybe that was why so many of the most successful drivers eventually got killed). And it's sometimes said that, even in today's much safer environment, there's still some awareness of risk - albeit subconscious - that can make a driver push a little less at certain points on the track. But if that starts happening, the driver's career is over. Basically, you have to completely shut out any awareness of the possible consequences of a mistake. As Sarti says in the film, "To be a great driver, you must lack imagination."

The area where I think improved safety has had an impact is not in willingness to push right to the edge in search of speed (that's always been the core of the sport) but in the aggressiveness of positional driving. A few days ago, I was reading a little about Dan Gurney (a great American driver of the '60s, and supposedly the guy Jim Clark regarded as his most formidable rival); he apparently refused to block, because he felt it created an unacceptable risk of collision. That might have seemed quaintly old-fashioned by the end of the 1960s, but the kind of aggressive blocking we see so much of today has only really become commonplace in the last 30 or 40 years. When crashes so often proved fatal, drivers wouldn't take any chance of colliding with another car. Even the relatively innocuous bump we saw between Hamilton and Webber at Singapore just would not have happened in that era. But Ayrton Senna took things a big step further in introducing the concept of crashing into a rival deliberately to maintain a points advantage in the title race (one of the reasons, the main one but not the only one, why he's never numbered amongst my driving heroes); an unlovely - and, still, unacceptably dangerous - trend that Schumacher continued.

Hopfrog said...

Thanks for letting me know this thread was still kickin', love talking this stuff. Going to be hard to win a championship Mr. Webber if you can't drive solo in the rain. Vettel, as always, brilliant in the rain, bad luck for RB.

"As Sarti says in the film, "To be a great driver, you must lack imagination.""... An excellent example of how well written the film was and how it really tried to convey 'racing concepts' to the public.

I used to play an absolutely brilliant racing simulator, about a decade ago, called Gran Prix Legends. The cars and tracks were all modeled on this era of auto racing and through the sim and the affiliated community, I learned a lot about the driver's from this era. The sims put out by the Papyrus team (the team also behind iRacing to any other simmers out there) are spot on. You miss the G forces, but other than that, I've found the feel an accurate representation and based on the simming I've done with cars in different eras, I must say, the cars from this era must have been some of the most thrilling and scariest to drive. Sadly, I can't get my hands on a current or 60's era F1 vehicle for a truly in depth comparison.

Heck, now that we're straying into a debate on drivers I gotta do it..... My Mt. Rushmore of F1 drivers.

Schumacher. There is just no getting away from the phenomenal record. I'n not a big fan of his and I think he benefited from being on some excellent teams and in an era with weaker competition, but one cannot get away from the data on this one.

Prost. His success over long stretches of time and with wildly varying teams says a lot about his ability. He always seemed to find a way to win in close WDC chases. In terms of raw talent behind the wheel, I go with Prost or Senna.

Fangio. I must admit to knowing close to nil about the era that started it all, but in trying to confirm the merit of my nominees I couldn't ignore what I was reading about Fangio. With different manufacturers over a period of years, and in an era where numerous drivers (and thus more competition) were given their shots, Fangio always rose above.

Jim Clark. In the sim I mentioned earlier, half the fun was watching these two (and Gurney by the by) do battle at the front of the pack. Truly a brilliant era in the sport and I love that the film has now helped cement these legends and had the greats from this era included in cameos. Had his life not been cut short he may have been able to stake claim to the top spot because he was certainly dominant enough, sadly, he cannot be placed their based on 'if only'.

As much as I want to put Senna up there, I cannot and won't cheat the format by squeezing in a fifth. To me, I think its probably one of the easier Mt. Rushmore's to carve out. Sure cases can be made for Jackie, Graham, and Senna, but I just don't see how any of them knock off one of these four.

Froog said...

I love The Professor, but... I felt that Prost could get rattled occasionally when other drivers pushed him hard (in his last season at Williams, Damon Hill - not usually that highly rated, was often snapping at his heels; and when Alain tried to push harder, he sometimes blew his engine). And his very smooth, very intellectual approach to driving was not the most exciting to watch. It was amazing that he could be so fast without looking like he might fall off the track at any moment, but the guys who push a bit beyond the edge are the ones who are more fun to watch.

From that era - well, the era when I was growing up, when I was watching the sport most avidly - I think I would go with Niki Lauda. OK, the Ferrari was a pretty dominant car in the mid-70s, but it still needed a great driver to make the most of that; and in general, I think, the difference between the teams was much less, or much less consistent in those days. But for the horrific crash at the Nurburgring, he would have won three titles in a row. He managed to get a few very good results even with the pretty horrible Brabham car in the next couple of seasons. And then he came back to win his third title, seven years after the previous one, and after taking a break from the sport altogether for a few years - when the sport had entered a completely different era, and competing against one of the strongest ever fields of drivers: Prost, Piquet, Senna, Mansell. That is truly remarkable.

Yep, I think I'd take Lauda over Prost. (And, Brit that I am, I might be tempted to take Mansell ahead of Prost, Senna, or Piquet for the greatest of the 80s.)

Froog said...

Ah, Prost was his team mate when Niki won in '84. I'd forgotten that - but it surely helps to clinch the argument.

Froog said...

By the way, HF, I am mightily jealous of you finding a good 'classic F1' simulation. I've raced quite a bit of noughties-era on the PS2, but - apart from enjoying learning the tracks and shaving down the lap times - there's not that much fun in them. The racing is... a bit dull.

Maybe that's a fair reflection of the nature of the sport today... Although I have to say I think the last few seasons have been some of the most exciting I can remember for a long, long time.

Hopfrog said...

My good sir, unclinch the argument. The Professor also won a title with Lauda as his teammate in '85. Prost dominated that year. By contrast, the year that Lauda won over Prost, it was by only half a point.

Prost: 199 starts, 4 WDCs, 51 wins.
Lauda: 171 starts, 3 WDCs, 25 wins.

The Professor stays on the mountain!

As a bonus, here is some cool footage on youku of the sim I talked about. There is still a devoted community running the sim.

Froog said...

Well, Niki had shocking luck in '85 - although he still managed to win one of the three races he finished.

I think the fact that he was able to beat Prost in the same car, and after a few years out of the sport, when he was a comparatively 'old man', speaks volumes.

I don't think the stats alone are that illuminating: Alain was a great driver, but he was fortunate enough to have a dominant car throughout most of his career. Villeneuve's legend is largely built on the way he drove a shite car. I'm not sure that Alain ever had to struggle with a really bad car, did he?

Hopfrog said...

Villeneuve? I thought we were talking about Niki and Alain. Villeneuve is not in the debate in my opinion. As far as the other point, Niki didn't suffer much either sitting in those ferraris and mclarens. Let's not get carried away about Niki besting Prost in the same car, it was a friggin half point! the next year, bad luck or not, in identical cars Prost destroyed Niki.

Froog said...

He beat him in a lot of races. '85 - I didn't see much of that; just see the stats that Niki didn't finish any races. Was Prost regularly outqualifying him, running ahead of him? Was Lauda culpable for some of those retirements? I don't know. But I rather doubt it.

My thinking here is - Lauda was basically a '70s era driver. Creamed everybody in his heyday. Came back and won again in the following decade - unusual achievement!

And if Prost is really that far ahead of everybody else, the 'Rushmore' icon, the Fangio or Clark of the '80s.... he really should be able to beat anybody, even other world champion class drivers, pretty consistently, even when driving in the same (dominating) car. He lost a lot to Lauda, lost a lot to Senna, didn't dominate Hill as much as you'd expect.

I think he was very, very, very good - but not at that next level of godlike.

Froog said...

Villeneuve is a whole other question. I was just throwing him in as an example of a driver who made a reputation amongst his peers as much when he was driving a bad car as when he was driving a good one.

Usually the best drivers eventually get a ride with a good team and have a crack at the championship. But not always: it's hard to judge the careers of guys who work hard in the lesser teams, or drive for the good teams in years when they have bad cars... or get killed in the middle of their career.

Gilles did seem to be one of those who was touched with something godlike. All the great guitarists of the '60s - Clapton, Page, Beck - used to hang out and trade riffs together; and they all used to agree that Hendrix had something on all of them. Same thing with late '70s F1 - everyone in the sport back then acknowledged Gilles as the best driver, and said it was only a matter of time before he won the championship. (He could have won in '79 but for team orders favouring Sheckter; he very probably would have won in '82, had he lived. In '80 and '81 he drove heroically in very poor cars.)

Hopfrog said...

The year Lauda won over Prost: Lauda was the established driver, Prost was the new guy on the team. Prost won 7 races, Lauda won 5. Prost was leading at Monaco when it was called due to rain and thus he was only awarded half the points he would have gotten for the win or at least a podium finish which would have put him over the top.

Prost and 80's era driver who creamed everyone in his day also came back a decade later and won in '93. 9 years apart for Niki from 1st title to last, 8 years apart for Prost.

I think at this point I will just agree to disagree.

Froog said...

Well, '84 was a very close season, and you might feel that Lauda's win that year was somewhat 'undeserved', but my point was that the truly outstanding drivers are seldom or never outqualified or outraced by a team mate - Prost often was. There wasn't much to choose between Lauda and Prost in the '80s, but in the '70s I think there might have been - Niki was just at a different level from everyone else back then.

Interesting that you also take Prost over Senna. I would too, but you haven't said anything on Ayrton yet - and I suppose most people would take him rather than Alain or Niki (or Nigel Mansell or Nelson Piquet) as the outstanding driver of the '80s.

You're not being drawn on Villeneuve either? You seem to favour the stats-based assessment - how many starts, how many wins? - so I guess you don't rate him that highly. Only four full seasons - one of them making a lot of rookie mistakes, one shackled by team orders, and two in a lousy car. But he did do some amazing things in that time.

Hopfrog said...

Well I'm trying to be objective and, as we've discussed on the other thread, Mt. Rushmore requires a certain degree of public acceptance. Agreed... Villeneuve, Senna, and Mansell were all brilliant drivers, but history sometimes forgets nuance.

Prost, outraced by teammates? I've already made the argument vs Lauda. Two of the others you named, Mansell and Senna were both outraced by Prost as teammates. The year Senna won over Prost, Prost actually had more total points but due to the scoring system of that time, the best 11 results gave Senna the edge by...... 3 whole points. The following year Prost bested Senna by 16. Prost outraced by teammates? No. In fact, I've always thought of that as part of Prost lore, that he has had outstanding teammates and bested them.

Prost was not flashy or as aggressive as the other drivers that you seem to want to give more credit to, but he was absolutely meticulous and smooth and you don't seem to want to pull Jim Clark off the mountain for those qualities.

Just some quick bits about the other drivers since you've pressed.

Villeneuve. I've heard many times people talk of his driving brilliance. He was just before my F1 viewing but I've seen clips which demonstrate those moments of brilliance, but in his 4 full years with Ferrari he only won 6 races and was 9,2,12, and 7 in the WDC. Sorry, there are tons of drivers out there with brilliant moments, the ones that make it on Mt. Rushmore do it for full seasons.

Mansell. Last time I checked they don't put Vice-Presidents on Mt. Rushmore. Mansell was a perennial bridesmaid. Though I must say he is one of the reasons I got into F1. I was an avid Indy car fan prior to becoming a devoted F1 fan and when Mansell came over and took the CART championship in his rookie year, I was floored and started watching F1 more intently and this was when I was absolutely amazed by what I saw Senna do on the track.

Senna. He makes it on my personal Mt. Rushmore, but your criticisms of him are fair. I would categorize him more aggressive than ill-natured but there are certainly enough incidents to make your claims debatable. Including breaking deals with teammate Prost. Imagine if he had kept his bargains with his teammate how much of an edge Prost would have had over him. I'm a fan of Senna for those moments of brilliance, but again, that doesn't get one on Mt. Rushmore.

Hopfrog said...

I wanted to see if it was just me that was seeing it this way with my 4 so I scoured a bunch of lists made by various sites. This one being the most interesting and seemingly unbiased:

Almost every single list I came across had Clark and Schumacher in the top 4. Just about all of them had Prost in the top 4. Senna and Fangio seemed to be the two drivers that rounded it out, and the ones that had Senna in it, usually listed him first. I could not find one list that had Lauda in the top 4 and most did not even have him in the top 10. Based on our conversations here about Lauda, I think its a sad oversight, but I'll still stand by my mountain.

Hopfrog said...

Also, if this were purely stat based, then Jim Clark would not be up there with his two titles and 25 wins in 8 years. His incredible bad luck (this guy had real bad luck) with cars prevented him from capturing the title every year he raced. When he didn't have car or pit problems, though, he was virtually unbeatable and absolutely dominating. Oh and I kept running into the same words about Clark that I used to describe Prost.... smooth and meticulous.

Hopfrog said...

Forget the debate for now, I read a few dozen blogs a day and this has been one of the most enjoyable threads for me personally these past few months. Prompting me to finally watch the movie and loving it, debating the drivers and reviving them in my memory, and tonight, just deciding to have a few drinks and download old F1 videos here at home has been a pure joy.

It seems a universal thing, no matter the format, to say "oh it was just so much better back in the good old days", and sometimes I wonder if in 20 years they will be looking back at all these close WDC runs recently and talking about this era as one of the best. But man, just watching all those old videos, watching those sparks fly, watching teammates battle hard in a way they just won't today, sorry, its hard not to miss those bygone eras.

In watching a lot of those old videos, I saw a lot of brilliant and aggressive Prost moves which showed me he was not just playing it safe out there. The battles between him and Senna, classic. It made me regret not catching every damn race and becoming totally immersed. Here in the states we were lucky to catch a race here and there on ABC. Its not like nowadays with SPEED showing all of them. I got to catch a lot of them, but in downloading all those videos, I realize how much more there was to appreciate.

My absolute favorite video of the night, and one I hope anyone reading this is able to access through a VPN:

Just amazing, couldn't imagine that happening today.

Froog said...

Well, you did seem to be relying very heavily on number of wins as a key criterion, HF. Although, even with that bias, I don't see why this should diminish the status of the great drivers of earlier eras like Clark, to the advantage of some of those from the last 20 years (who've had nearly twice as many races each season, and much higher levels of mechanical reliability).

I'm not sure that Jimmy Clark was conspicuously more unlucky than anyone else; there was just a much higher rate of failure to finish races back in the '60s (getting on for 50% at times; and - with no quick wheel changes - even a small tyre problem would usually prove fatal to your chances of finishing in the points, even if it didn't necessitate a retirement). Clark smashed the then records for number of poles and number of wins in just seven full seasons; and it did seem pretty much that if his car was running well, he won. That was a degree of dominance - on a much more level playing field than since - perhaps not even Fangio or Schumacher could claim. And certainly not Prost!

That Times list was rather quirky, wasn't it? Obviously it's a thankless task to try to make comparisons across the generations, but I felt there was perhaps a bit too much bias in favour of the current crop of drivers: Button, Hamilton, and Alonso not just included, but included in the upper half of the rankings? While Gurney (acknowledged as Clark's leading rival) and Ascari (acknowledged as Fangio's) barely made it in amongst the tail-enders!!

Froog said...

My point about Prost - a wilfully needling but not particularly earnest one - was that I wasn't convinced that he was quite head-and-shoulders enough above his peers to be considered a 'Mt Rushmore' figure.

It's hard to dig out stats on how he fared head-to-head against team mates Lauda or Senna when they both finished in a race; but, you know, Lauda won 6 races against him in the same car (despite an appalling run of luck in their second season together), and Senna 14 (to Alain's 11) - that doesn't look like 'dominance'.

Actually, I quite agree that Prost was a remarkable talent - but I felt there were suggestions of vulnerability about him, perhaps mentally as much as anything: he allowed the feud with Senna to get completely out of hand (I think Senna was 95% at fault, but Prost overreacted). And he often struggled to find anything extra when put under pressure by a 'charger' like Mansell or Senna (or even Damon Hill, who often ran faster in races than him during his farewell season with Williams).

However, I'd agree that his very smooth, economical style of driving does seem to have been reminiscent of the great Jim Clark. And his cool, intellectual approach was at another level from the majority of drivers. (Perhaps only Schumacher can rival him in this? Although, oddly enough, I have heard it said that Gilles Villeneuve too - despite being notorious for a swashbuckling style - could on occasion be extremely shrewd in preserving his tyres and brakes.)

I admire his refusal to take unnecessary risks; and, in particular, his refusal to drive in heavy rain (something he has in common with Lauda).

I think I would probably Prost as the best of the 80s drivers. But I'd take Lauda as the best of the 70s (Jackie Stewart was just a bit before my time). And I find it very hard to choose between them - there might be no more than half a point in it!!

Froog said...

When you're thinking of 'place in history', it's hard to get away from the stats: points, poles, fastest laps, championships. Alain was certainly a remarkable driver, and the most successful of that extraordinary 80s generation.

But when you think of 'place in the heart', you tend to find a greater affinity for guys who showed more emotion - both on and off the track. And perhaps with guys who faced more ill luck, or had to battle with sub-par cars.

Also, Alain, bless him, was just dreadful with the press. He was in his own way - more worldweary Gallic melancholy than Nigel's irritating Brummie monotone - every bit as much of a whinger as Mansell. (And it probably didn't help his popular appeal that he looked like Charles Aznavour!)

That's why, for me, Mansell is the greatest of the 80s drivers - even though he wasn't as well-rounded or consistent as Prost, and didn't achieve nearly as much success. But the tifosi got it right when they dubbed him Il Leone: he gave 110% every time he got in a car - and it put the wind up his stellar contemporaries.

While on an intellectual level, we admire Prost's exceptional ability to maintain fast lap times while driving carefully... on an emotional level, we - well, I - connect more with Mansell's compulsion to charge even when he didn't need to (in his championship-winning season with Williams, he often got bored with driving from the front the whole time, and would start taking chances, attacking the fastest lap time in the later stages of the race just for something to do!). Some of his racing from behind, catching up huge deficits on race leaders like Senna or Prost, and then jousting with them wheel-to-wheel, was the most exciting F1 I've ever seen.

And then to go straight into the CART Championship and win that as a rookie (despite that huge accident at Phoenix early in the season - which left him with chronic bruising of the lower back for which he needed treatment and painkillers for months) was just astonishing. And wasn't it at The Brickyard that he passed somebody round the outside when there wasn't really room to do so, and scraped the logos off his tyres grazing along the wall? Yes, he was a crazy son-of-a-bitch - but he was magnificent to watch.

Froog said...

Ah, HF, you were revisiting the thread at the same time as me! Surely a bit LATE where you are??

What was that bit you linked to? VPN is fine (I think everyone in China has one now!), but the connection speed is grindingly slow for video streaming.

Froog said...

By the way, I think I'm with Nigel Mansell in backing Webber to hang on for the title this year. That mistake at Suzuka could have wrecked his self-confidence, but I think he's strong enough to bounce back from it. All he's got to do is finish ahead of Alonso in two more races; and, given that he's got the better car, that shouldn't be too difficult. Vettel rather than Alonso could be the fly in the ointment.

I like Webber: not only ballsy, but smart, and mentally tough. He's paid his dues in the sport, driven well, for a mix of good and bad teams, for nearly a decade - deserves this shot. Getting in the points in his debut F1 race at Melbourn in a Minardi was remarkable!

Vettel looks like he's going to be a big star - phenomenally fast; but still a bit naive and hotheaded, I fear.

There's a lot of good young talent coming through in recent years; but I think I like Robert Kubica best - I really think he's got it in him to be a World Champion before long.

Froog said...

Ah, the time when Mansell gave Senna a lift back to the pits at the end of the British Grand Prix? There was a spell when it was relatively common for cars to run out of fuel on the victory lap - they cut it that fine sometimes.

Did you see this? The opening of the 1986 Detroit GP -

Hopfrog said...

Oh man, a first for me and my big mouth, I was told my post was too long by the site. Here it is in two parts:

Excellent points about mechanical problems effecting just about everyone in the early eras, I'll have to take a look at some numbers and get back as to how Clark's luck was compared to say Graham Hill. In looking at the results grid it seems almost all of Clark's races were either "RET" or "1st".

The times list was very quirky and I think they were trying to work in recent drivers (something that most of the other ones I came across did not). Of the current crop, based solely on driving skill, its easily Alonso in my book followed by Vettel. I think if they get to race long enough, one if not both will be knocking someone off the mountain. I have become more familiar with Lauda based on our conversation and its criminal he is not in the top 10.

I'll also try and dig up some figures about how Prost did vs teammate when both finished. I have a feeling Senna fared better but not the other two. It was too bad that he let Senna get under his skin as much as he did, even being the key factor in deciding what teams Prost joined. But the driving between those two as teammates, awesome stuff.

"didn't help his popular appeal that he looked like Charles Aznavour!"... rofl, sadly I think this has a lot to do with it. He just didn't look like he could possibly be a fast driver in his helmet either, but alas, he certainly was.

I forgot Mansell's accident, yeah your right, that was another reason I was so blown away that year now that you mention it. I think the wires are getting a bit crossed about that 93 Indy 500. I tend to mix that stuff up too. I'll give a quick rundown, but first let me say, I had been a devotee of the Indy 500 for many years prior to Nigel's run, and his accomplishment and driving in THAT race, as a rookie, was astonishing. Here is a brief synopsis of the highlights: Mansell storms the field from 8th, passing Indy legend Fittipaldi who is driving the superior Penske, and then catching pole sitter Arie Luyendyk. Mansell, in his first ever Oval race, passes Luyendyk, rounding a corner, on the outside! This is not done at Indy... veteran Indy observers are basically in shock at what they are witnessing at this point. The logo wasn't rubbed off here, but it was at one point in this race, more on that in a bit. After that pass, the cape begins to come off when he enters pit row, and boneheadedly overshoots his pits, costing him a ton of time. Not a problem, he makes up the ground he lost and is once again leading the race as a rookie. A yellow flag comes out and on the restart the value of Indy experience shows as both Fittipaldi and Luyendyk school him on the restart. Mansell must have been beside himself knowing he had just thrown away the 500 because he seems to have really lost his focus out on the track after this and even drifts high on a corner, rubbing the logo off of his tires as he rubs the wall. He still finishes third in an amazing display and did the union jack incredibly proud.

Hopfrog said...

Yes, that clip was the ride back to the pits. Dangerous and foolhardy, but I don't know, just seemed like a really cool moment.

Agreed on all of your observations of this year. Also, agreed on Kubica, he had no business whatsoever being in the hunt the year that Massa and Hamilton settled it on the last lap, but yet, there he was, hanging in there with a vastly inferior car. I think he may have the stuff too. He might need a situation like Button walked into last year though before we really see his potential.

Brilliant clip from Detroit. I loved that track! Made for brilliant racing. I miss F1 making a stop or two in the states. And man, its probably just nostalgia from my youth, but everytime I watch those old clips I just feel it in my gut how much I miss those times. I really feel the 80's was F1's greatest era. Do you agree or do you feel it was the 70's?

Also one more thing about Senna. I can see why he makes it to the top of so many 'greatest F1 drivers' lists. I can't remember a time when he wasn't at least in the chase for a title let alone making the highlight reels time and time again for every F1 season with brilliant passes like that one on Nigel.

Also, while Ayrton wasn't exactly a gentleman on the track, he was a gem of a human being off of it, donating much of his fortune to feeding Brazil's starving children. I think the following clip says a lot about who Ayrton Senna was. And again, if any outside observers have actually made it this far in the thread and are watching these clips, the driver your going to hear at the start of this clip was known as "the iceman".

Hopfrog said...

Ok, just got done with some number crunching, and let me start with tipping my hat to you sir. Your observations were profoundly astute and certainly do paint a clearer picture.

Starting with the Clark era and the issues of reliability. Clark and Gurney had almost identical careers in terms of when they entered and exited F1 and the number of starts so I compared them heads up. Graham Hill had a much longer career so I only used the same block of time that Clark was in, '60 - '68.

Jim Clark had 72 starts with 23 finishes for a finish rate of %68.

Dan Gurney had 86 stats with 42 finishes for a finish rate of %51.

Graham Hill had 88 starts with 34 finishes for a finish rate of %61.

You were spot on Froog, the incredibly high mechanical failure rate was more indicitave of the era's technology as opposed to Mr. Clark's poor luck.

Now onto how Prost did when compared to his teammates. Strictly comparing which driver came out ahead of the other when both drivers were able to complete the race, regardless of wins.

When both were able to finish, Lauda was slightly ahead at 5 higher finishes to Prost's 4.

Senna dominated, besting Prost 14 times to Alain's 6.

Prost was slightly ahead of Mansell at 5 higher finishes to Nigel's 3.

Again, another nod to you sir, this does paint a clearer picture.

In light of recent enlightenment, I am chiseling Prost off the mountain and proudly putting Ayrton up there. I'm starting to think Alain's not wanting to be teamed with Ayrton had less to do with sportsmanship and more to do with out and out fear of not being able to compete.

Froog said...

There's something weird going on with filtering on the Chinese Web (Liu Xiaobo anxiety maybe?): YouTube is just unusably slow for me at the moment.

Nigel's crash at Phoenix was huge. He actually knocked a piece of concrete out of the far side of the wall. Maybe one of the few things he'd learned about oval racing was that if you start to lose the back end, it's better to just let it go, and hope to take the wall rear first, rather than risking a head-on impact if you try to correct (I heard him say this in one of the interviews he did during this season, but I can't now remember if it was before or after this prang).

I also recall an interview that year (I'm pretty sure from the Phoenix race, just before the accident) where he came out with a great self-deprecating line, one of the funniest and most charming I can ever remember hearing from him. He recounted being flattered by a long-time Indy/CART fan approaching him for an autograph after the first couple of practice sessions, who said to him, "You know, you're incredible. I've been coming to this racetrack for years and I've never seen anyone take the lines you do through these corners." Nige replied candidly, "That's because I haven't found the right line yet."

Froog said...

For me, Ayrton is disqualified on moral grounds alone. Yes, he may have been a decent and philanthrophic fellow in his private life, but on and around the track he was a complete arsehole.

His constant whingeing - particularly about other drivers (Mansell's overtaking was "dangerous" - hello! pot and kettle?! - became sickening. And punching Eddie Irvine out for passing him in the S's at Suzuka? Arrogance, petulance, and over-sensitive ego were his hallmarks. What Eddie did there wasn't dangerous, wasn't improper or illegal (necessary racing: he was unlapping himself, which might have been important at the end of the race), and it didn't really cost Senna any time - it just showed him up.

He also has an astonishing record of collisions - 16 or 17, I think. In almost all of them he was primarily culpable, and in a few - not just the notorious incident where he punted Prost off in the first corner at Suzuka to steal the championship - there's a possibility that it was deliberate.

He wasn't anywhere near 'perfect' either; he made his share of unpremeditated mistakes. He crashed when leading at Monaco once, pure lapse of concentration. And one year he ran into the back of Damon Hill, at Donnington, I think (where he famously passed four people on the opening lap in the rain in '93; but again, I'm not so bowled over by that - I should watch it again, but my impression at the time was that everyone else was pussyfooting excessively in uncertain conditions... credit to him that he wasn't [Prost might not even have started in those conditions; and if he had, would have waited for safer chances to pass later in the race], but it didn't seem to me like the superman driving some have made it out to be); he tried to blame it on an erratic brake pedal, but it was sheer inattentiveness - or perhaps an uprush of spite against a driver he knew he wasn't going to beat that year.

Senna had amazing qualifying speed, but didn't always carry that through to races. And even on qualifying, he was outdone by Mika Hakkinen on his debut. OK, Mika was another outstanding driver, the second best of the 90s; and maybe Ayrton had lost some his passion in a second-best McLaren by then - but still.... the 'best qualifier ever' is bested by a rookie?

Senna may be a kind of Maradona figure in F1 (but not nearly as good, I don't think, as Maradona), in that he was egregiously gifted but a lot of people (not just me!) are reluctant to include him in the pantheon because of his obnoxious personality - and the cheating or questionable practice which sullied his sport.

Senna wasn't even much fun to watch most of the time. He had the ability to out-pace his opponents even in a slightly-second-best car. But, most of the time, he went for Prost-style ultra-conservatism when he was in the lead, just making his car as wide as possible. (I think all Brits hate him because our predominant memories are of the laps and laps and laps where he was blocking a faster Nigel Mansell - very boringly, and often dangerously. It was because of him that the 'not changing line more than once [or is it 'twice'?] down a straight' rule was introduced. Not a glorious legacy!)

And then the deliberate crashing into people. You can't have someone on the mountain when they have tried to legitimise that. It would be like keeping George Washington in even though he blamed his neighbour's kid for the cherry tree incident, or Abe Lincoln if he'd kept slaves.

Schumacher carries the same taint, unfortunately; but I do think he is - or was (really seems to have lost the magic this season) - a much, much better driver. I really believe that Schumi might have won in '94, even had Senna lived, even in an inferior car. I think he's that good. Not an entirely likeable human being, but a godlike driver. Senna, I feel, was less godlike and more unlikeable.

Hopfrog said...

I think your being a bit biased against Mr. Senna. Not fun to watch? I loved watching him race. Every driver has had his bad moments of inattention (I just spoke of Mansell overshooting his pit and drifting into a wall), unexciting days when the speed just isn't there, and times when it seemed they just were getting in the way. There are plenty of incidents where Senna was outracing the likes of Mansell and Prost and they just would not move so he made a brilliant pass on them. I thought Ayrton was a lot of fun to watch, sure he had his bad moments, but when you push that hard, your gonna have bad moments.

The intentional crashes? The only one I know of where he was 'accused' of intentionally crashing someone, was the Suzuka incident with Prost and I think its silly to think it was intentional. If Senna took them both out of the race then it would have locked up the title for Alain. Why would he do that? I just rewatched the footage and it looks like a typical Senna crash. He was just pushing too hard and took too much speed into the corner.

The Irvine incident. That was a total prick move by Eddie. It was the last lap of the race, going onto the backstretch at Suzuka, Eddie had absolutely NOTHING to gain from it and the move proved nothing because Senna was off of race speed and waving to the friggin crowd for heaven's sake. Where he took the move, it wasn't dangerous, but it served no purpose other than to make it seem like he was able to pass the race winner at will, when in fact his ass was a lap down and he should have had the decency to hold off race pace with the leader as there was like 3 friggin corners to go and it was impossible to catch Hill.

Fortunately, after the race when he was punched, Eddie was speaking with a reporter from Autosport who caught the whole incident on tape. A transcript will follow in the next post. It seems to me this knucklehead rookie wouldn't listen to reason, was being a smartass, and deserved to get clocked. Yeah, Eddie really 'showed up' everyone. In 148 F1 starts he managed 4 wins and 1 fast lap for his entire career.

Also speaking of Autosport, they polled 217 former and current F1 drivers and asked them who they thought was the greatest ever. The winner.... Ayrton Senna.

Hopfrog said...

Much speculation surrounds Ayrton Senna's encounter with Eddie Irvine after the 1993 Japanese GP. The following is a transcript of that now infamous event ...

The scene: Eddie Irvine is sitting alone on a table in the Jordan cabin. Jordan's commercial manager, Rubens Barichello and several other people, mostly Team members, are also present. Suzuka was Irvine's first ever F1 race and everyone is watching a re-run of the Senna-Hill-Irvine incident.

Suddenly the door opens and in walks Ayrton Senna accompanied by Norman Howell, director of communications for McLaren and Giorgio Ascanelli, Senna's engineer.

Senna is looking for Irvine, but either he doesn't see him or he doesn't recognise him. Eddie Irvine raises his hand and Senna walks over to him ...

Irvine : Here!

Senna : What the **** do you think you were doing?

Irvine : I was racing!

Senna : You were racing? Do you know the rule that you're supposed to let the leaders come by when you're a back marker?

Irvine : If you were going fast enough, it was no problem.

Senna : I overtook you! And you went three times off the road in front of me, at the same place, like ****ing idiot, where there was oil. And you were throwing stones and all things in front of me for three laps. When I took you, you realised I was ahead of you. And when I came up behind Hill, because he was on slicks and in difficulties, you should have stayed behind me. You took a very big risk to put me out of the race.

Irvine : Where did I put you in any danger?

Senna : You didn't put me in any danger?

Irvine : Did I touch you? Did I touch you once?

Senna : No, but you were that much from touching me, and I happened to be the ****ing leader. I HAPPENED TO BE THE ****ING LEADER!

Irvine : A miss is as good as a mile.

Senna : I tell you something. If you don't behave properly in the next event, you can just rethink what you do. I can guarantee you that.

Irvine : The stewards said "No problem. Nothing was wrong."

Senna : Yeah? You wait till Australia. You wait till Australia, when the stewards will talk to you. Then you tell me if they tell you this.

Irvine : Hey, I'm out there to do the best for me.

Hopfrog said...

Senna : This is not correct. You want to do well. I understand, because I've been there I understand. But it's very unprofessional. If you are a back marker, because you happen to be lapped ...

Irvine : But I would have followed you if you'd overtaken Hill!

Senna : You should let the leader go by ...

Irvine : I understand that fully!

Senna : ... and not come by and do the things you did. You nearly hit Hill in front of me three times, because I saw, and I could of collected you and him as a result, and that's not the way to do that.

Irvine : But I'm racing! I'm racing! You just happened to ...

Senna : You're not racing! You're driving like a ****ing idiot. You're not a racing driver, you're a ****ing idiot!

Irvine: You talk, you talk. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Senna : I was in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Irvine : Yes. I was battling with Hill.

Senna : Really? Really? Just tell me one thing. Who is supposed to have the call? You, or the leader of the race who comes through to lap you?

Irvine : The leader of the race.

Senna : So what have you done?

Irvine : You, you were too slow, and I had to overtake you to try to get at Hill.

Senna : Really? How did I lap you if I was too slow?

Irvine : Rain. Because on slicks you were quicker than me, on wets you weren't.

Senna : Really? Really? How did I come and overtake you on wets?

Irvine : Huh?

Senna : How come I overtook you on wets?

Irvine : I can't remember that. I don't actually remember the race.

Senna : Exactly. Because you are not competent enough to remember. That's how it goes you know.

Irvine : Fair enough. Fair enough. That's what you think.

Senna : You be careful guy.

Irvine : I will. I'll watch out for you.

Senna : You're gonna have problems not with me only, but with lots of other guys, also the FIA.

Irvine : Yeah?

Senna : You bet.

Irvine : Yeah? Good.

Senna : Yeah? It's good to know that.

Irvine : See you out there.

Senna : It's good to know that.

Irvine : See you out there ...

Appearing to turn away Senna then turns back and hits Irvine with his left hand. The blow lands on the right side of Irvine's head. Irvine loses his balance and falls off the table. Senna is still shouting as he is hustled towards the door.

Irvine yells "Insurance claim there!"

Senna (leaving) retorts "You got to learn to respect where you're going wrong!"

Hopfrog said...

I got my wires crossed there and was thinking of another incident. It was not the last lap of the race and in fact Irvine was chasing Hill down. My bad. Still Senna was on wets and Irving was on slicks, not exactly 'shown up'.

Froog said...

Yes, it was only about three quarters of the way through the race, I think; but the track was drying quickly, and Senna was one of the last drivers to come in for a change. So, Eddie had a huge tyre advantage over him. And he'd done a lot of testing at Suzuka, so he was brilliant through the S's. Ayrton's attitude seemed to be "How dare you pass me? You're a crap driver!" All that stuff about Eddie having driven "dangerously" was pure bullshit; Ayrton always made those sort of complaints whenever anyone tried to pass him. He had such a colossal ego that he didn't like anyone else to look 'better' than him ever, even through one corner - so, every time someone passed him, obviously they must have been doing something dangerous or improper, and he just let them go by to avoid an accident. He was, as my buddy The British Cowboy, would say, an assclown. Fantastic driver, but an assclown.

I think this transcript actually shows Eddie in a very good light - keeping his cool and his sense of humour, when Senna had completely lost it, was making preposterous claims and insulting and threatening him.

The '89 Suzuka incident was probably Alain's fault. Much the same thing happened in '90, and that time it clinched the championship for Senna. Senna subsequently admitted it was deliberate on his part - and that he was largely motivated by a sense of pique at how he had been "robbed" of the championship the year before (same kind of petulance he displayed in the Eddie Irvine incident, but with the violence manifested on a much bigger scale). He should have been disqualified for that - at least from that championship, if not for life. (Unfortunately, it was too close for the stewards to call it; and he didn't admit his malice until some time later.)

And I think it must have been Silverstone in '92 where he just drove into the back of Damon Hill. Another reason why many Brit fans despise him.

He could be a great and exciting racer, sure; especially early in his career. But in the later years, my memories of him are dominated by a lot of tediously defensive driving.

He was dominant at Monaco (might have won 7 in a row, but for that goof-up in his first year with McLaren; very nearly won it in his rookie season, driving the Toleman!), and undeniably brilliant in the rain. A Maradona figure: impossible not to admire, but almost equally impossible to like.

And I do think Schumacher was even better.

Froog said...

This is a very cool selection of great overtaking manoeuvres in F1 in the 80s and 90s:

I particularly like the one where Nelson Piquet goes round the outside of Ayrton Senna entering a corner, but loses the rear end big time - somehow manages to hold it together, basically goes through the corner semi-sideways in a barely controlled four-wheel drift! (Senna, of course, would have complained that it was "dangerous"!)

Hopfrog said...

Great clip. Yeah, the Piquet pass was tops. Incredible recovery.

Froog said...

And don't diss Eddie Irvine! The stats on F1 wins and so on don't tell the whole story. Schumacher had a lot of respect for his natural speed when he was his team mate at Ferrari. He drove well for Jordan and Jaguar in severely uncompetitive cars, and was hampered by team orders while at Ferrari.

Eddie was a convincing winner of the UK Formula Ford Festival (long seen as a nursery of great F1 drivers) when he was only 21; he won pole position his first time out at the very demanding F3 Grand Prix in Monaco; and he also had some good drives in the Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing runner-up in '94. And he made the podium at Monaco 4 times - once in the Jaguar! Not at all a shabby driver. It's a great pity he blew his chance to win the World Championship by crashing in qualifying at Suzuka in '99.

Not quite in "Mt Rushmore" territory, but certainly not run-of-the-mill either; one of the better drivers of the '90s.

Froog said...

Ach, Monaco - I meant Macau, of course!

Froog said...

Interesting stats you dug up there, HF. I think the race completion percentages for '60s drivers do suggest that Jim Clark was a little more unlucky than most others - perhaps particularly so since it's part of his legend that he just didn't make mistakes. I believe he only had three or four crashes in his career, and those are reckoned to have been down to mechanical failures rather than driver error (apart from the awful collision with Von Trips, which might perhaps have been partly his fault). With almost all the other drivers, I would imagine, a certain proportion of their retirements would have been down to their own mistakes.

Froog said...

Ah, Prost was racing in that famous European Grand Prix at Donnington, one of the people Senna passed (I suspect he was holding the other leading cars up a bit, by taking the first lap very cautiously, as was his wont!). For some reason, I always seem to remember that race as having been in the '92 rather than the '93 season.

I still can't remember which race it was that Senna pranged Hill, but I guess that also must have been '93 - Hill's debut season in the Williams.