June 5, 2013

A funny thing happened on my way to the grid

Adrian Newey's race weekend ended in embarrassing circumstances © Getty Images

Sometimes, it’s better not to listen to the boss. Adrian Newey should have ignored Dietrich Mateschitz when the Red Bull owner started banging on about F1 tyres rather than fizzy drinks. ‘This has nothing to do with racing anymore,’ moaned Mateschitz. ‘This is a competition in tyre management.’

So, Newey takes himself off to Silverstone last weekend to race a Lamborghini for fun and forget about F1’s latest tyre squabble. And what does he do? Shunts the thing into the wall on the parade lap while…er…managing his tyres.

How embarrassing must that be for a man who really cares about the flowing lines of a racing car, only to trail into the pit lane with a smashed nose in the air and a metaphorical tail between his legs. When he talked in the past about reprofiling aerodynamic surfaces, I don’t think this is what Adrian meant. And I can hardly bring myself to mention that the car was running on tyres made by…yep, you’ve guessed, Pirelli.

Newey is not alone in screwing up on the way to the grid. Adrian was in residence at Williams in 1995 when David Coulthard managed to spin during the parade lap at Monza. And no less a pillar of prudence than Alain Prost came pirouetting down the hill and into retirement at Imola while heading for the grid in 1991.

Mind you, none of this compares to an incident at the Phoenix Park races in, I think, 1977. Before describing events that day, let me put a bit of perspective on this temporary circuit in Dublin by telling you they stopped practice because the Papal Nuncio, who resides inside the splendid park, wanted to cross the track and go about the Pontiff’s business. And I do believe they actually used a white flag for the imperious moment when the Holy vehicle purred across the racing line.

On race day, it so happened I was visiting the commentary box, perched high on perilous scaffolding, when a Boy Scout messenger scaled the ladder and handed the commentator a scrap of paper. On it was scrawled a note to the effect that a pair of spectacles had been lost in the paddock and asking, if found, that they be returned with some urgency to the driver of car 25.

At which point, I noted with some alarm that car 25 was actually on the grid below in readiness for the start of a Formula Ford race. With events in Ireland moving at what you might call a leisurely pace, we could only hope that in the intervening period between the reported loss and the message being recorded and arriving in the commentary box, the spectacles had been found and returned to their rightful owner. Then again….this was Ireland.

It was back in the days of the dummy grid, a device that did what it said on the tin by having the field gather in formation and then roll forward to the grid proper, the better to avoid having a stalled car in the middle of the pack. This, not unreasonably, assumed that each competitor would be in full command of his faculties at such a high-risk moment.

So, we have the starter wave a green flag as a signal to advance, prior to the dropping of the Irish Tricolour once the grid is finally and properly formed. Whether the driver of car 25 was colour blind or took the green to mean ‘Go!’ – that’s assuming he saw a flag at all – I really don’t know. Perhaps, in all the excitement, it was the increase in engine revs all around him that did the trick. Whatever the reason, our man gave it full wellie - and launched himself clean over the car in front.

For a moment it looked like we’d need the Papal Nuncio to make an unscheduled trip and perform unfortunate duties on the grid. How no one was seriously hurt I’ll never know. And, no; I’ve no idea if the poor guy ever found his glasses.

Perhaps Mr. Mateschitz is right. Managing your tyres and spectacles has got nothing to do with the actual racing. Particularly if you fail to make the start.


Posted by PB on 06/06/2013

Unfortunately Mr. Newey has a habit of wrecking under various circumstances and his driving skills don't appear to be improving with increasing seat time. Racing is becoming an increasing expensive and dangerous hobby for him.

Posted by John B on 06/06/2013

Somehow I doubt Adrian was as embarassed as this lets on. Sure, he stuffed up, but I'd bet he'd be thinking "yeah, laugh it up. The history books (and bank balance) shows me way above any of you people" to those laughing at him over it. Not quite tail between legs.

Posted by F1 LORD on 06/06/2013

ha ha ha

Posted by Tommy Jagerwall on 05/06/2013

It is human to fail but also it is human to win. Adrian did non of it what so ever. But off course when things put the devil behind the control of everything it does not matter whatever you do. Perhaps some more driving and practice will do miracle Mr. Newey. I dearly wish you better luck next time. Dig the drift and show them!

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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