May 14, 2013

Flying the flag of common sense

Alan Jones has history when it comes to picking up a flag at the end of a race © Press Association

Good on ya’, Daniel Ricciardo. One of the first tweets I saw on the morning after the Spanish Grand Prix came from the Toro Rosso driver. Obviously still in good form following another impressive race, Ricciardo had this to say:

Spoken like a true Aussie. Which is significant because Alan Jones was the ex-driver steward on duty in Barcelona and I’ll bet a Pound to a pinch of kangaroo poo that Jonesey had a hand in kicking this nonsense into touch.

Yes, yes, I know Alonso had contravened Articles (Loose), Section 3, Paragraph 96A ‘Handbags and Gloveboxes’, stating that a driver must not speak to strangers and, if a foreign object is picked up, it must either be handed to the Customs Officer stationed at the entrance to Parc Fermé or, if possessing a financial value, it must be rushed by armed guard direct to the office of Mr Ecclestone, who will divide the proceeds 98 per cent to CVC Capital Partners and 2 per cent (less FOM tax) to the teams.

And, yes, I know the rule is to prevent a driver picking up a slab of ballast disguised as a bar of chocolate and slipping it into his pocket before stepping onto the post-race scales. But, please! In a sport systematically stripped of character over time, why on earth can a local winner not lift his supporters with a flutter of national pride, particularly in a country that hasn’t had much to shout about in recent years?

Ayrton Senna developed this into a patriotic art. On his slowing down lap, he would seek out anyone willing to let him have the green and yellow symbol of a country that meant so much to the proud Brazilian and his grateful followers. Not only would Senna brandish the flag from the cockpit, he would take it with him to the podium. This was before they brought in a procedure that just falls short of sniffer dogs, an x-ray scan and body search before celebrations can officially begin.

Jones must have had a wry smile when the subject of Alonso’s shocking act of insubordination came up. His mind will have gone back to the 1980 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, a race Jones won for Williams and, in the process, ‘stuffed the bloody French’.

F1 was in the middle of a power struggle between FISA (the sporting arm of the FIA) and the aforementioned Mr Ecclestone’s nascent FOCA organisation representing the British teams. Jones had won the Spanish Grand Prix, only to lose the victory at a stroke when FISA outlawed the race. And the signs were that Williams were in for a hammering in France when Ligier drivers Jacques Laffite and Didier Pironi qualified first and third, the blue cars split by Rene Arnoux’s Renault. But Williams and Jones had a trick or two up their sleeves.

Recognising that tyre wear would be crucial (sound familiar?), Williams spent practice focusing solely on the 54-lap race by trying different rim sizes and Goodyear compounds. Come Sunday afternoon, the three French cars took off like scalded cats but, in searing heat, the 170-mph Courbe de Signes began to take its toll on the left-front. Jones, biding his time and running larger front wheels than those on the Ligiers, gradually moved forward. By lap 35, he was in the lead. And there was nothing the Ligiers could do about it (Arnoux having retired early on).

The pièce de résistance was provided by Ian Anderson when the Williams crew chief thrust a large Union Jack into his driver’s willing hand. With the other, Jones raised a finger briefly at the FISA dignitaries watching unhappily from the side.

There were no recriminations. And not a single complaint about Goodyear’s tyres. Ligier were deeply unhappy. But Williams had got it right on the day.


Posted by Viraj Ambetkar on 14/05/2013

Brilliant article!!! Bernie and his idiocy... Alonso's waving of the Spanish flag was very symbolic and must have inspired a lot of Spaniards in their tough time.

Posted by kevin shaw on 14/05/2013

Far too many petty rules in the book now .
Proud of your home land then let them see it. A win on home turf celebration that didnt include a flag should be unheard of im hoping for a union jack at silverstone.

Posted by Bones on 14/05/2013

Thank you Mr. Hamilton for another great article.
I've been following F1 since 1990 when I was 10 years old, I've watched every race (even during the Schumacher borefest) and I must say apart from the races I enjoy reading your articles the most.

Best regards!

Posted by Maurice Hamilton on 14/05/2013

Yes Paul, you're correct. Frank always insisted that the Union Jack and the Saudi flags should fly in the pits because, as you say, of the sponsorship from Saudia Airlines (and others). I think the guy carrying the flag is Wayne Eckersley, who was Jonesey's chief mechanic - and an Aussie. And, of course, in those days, team members were allowed to jump onto the track - a practice which got a bit out of hand as time went by! The finish line was some way to the left of the picture, so Jones completed the entire slowing down lap like this. The flag was so big it was nearly torn out of his hand..

Posted by Ferry on 14/05/2013

"if possessing a financial value, it must be rushed by armed guard direct to the office of Mr Ecclestone, who will divide the proceeds 98 per cent to CVC Capital Partners and 2 per cent (less FOM tax) to the teams."

Absolutely brilliant!

Posted by Dave on 14/05/2013

@JackL - that would be a team official holding the Saudi flag and not a marshal. At the time the primary sponsor for Williams was Saudia, their national airline, so it would be with that in mind they had that flag there.

The influence of the Saudis reportedly went so far as requiring the team have other beverages for their drivers to drink on the podium that had no alcohol, an oddity that has come up again in recent years as F1 and MotoGP has started racing in the Persian Gulf countries.

I approve of Jones being a steward. Not only would he let silly technicalities like that go, any rebuke for astoundingly stupid driving by guys like Hamilton or Maldonado would probably include an appropriate leavening of swearing to make the point clear!

Posted by Paul on 14/05/2013

@JackL, this is a Williams mechanic and indeed it is a Saudi flag, in hounour (I guess) of their Saudi Arabian main sponsors at the time. Also the reason why William's maiden victory (Regazzoni, British GP '79) was celebrated with milk on the podium...

Posted by AdamF on 14/05/2013

A driver can much more easily "acquire" some extra ballast when they fling themselves into the throng of jubilant team members over the barriers of Parc Fermé.
Don't tell the FIA though, or they'll outlaw that as well.

Posted by JackL on 14/05/2013

Maurice, is one of the marshals in the picture holding a Saudi flag?

Posted by Izhaar on 14/05/2013

Great comment by Ricciardo(direct and straight as we Dutch love it) and a very valid point made by Maurice regarding th sport losing its characters. If Alonso had been disqualified I would have stopped watching F1, since Alonso really has been the one character who has made F1 any interesting in the last few years to watch in this RB dominated era! Next to that some idiotic rules really need to be looked at such as picking up the flag, no full throttle Q3 qualifying,etc.

Posted by Gino on 14/05/2013

Couldn't agree more, Maurice. Excellent points as ever. As if in this day in age as well, any driver could get away with a disguised chocolate bar for ballast when cameras are pointed on the individual and twitter abuzz with eagle eyed spectators. Silly.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live 6. Maurice Hamilton