A niche piece this, but I am sure relatable to others passion’s ebb and flow,
whether music, sport or hobby.
When I was around thirteen years old I would catch glimpses of the Monaco Grand Prix. Monstrous cars would carve their way around the tiny streets of Monte Carlo. In days of old they would have nothing but a hay bale or two between the driver and the ocean, many plunging into the harbour, a stark turn of events at the end of a crash. Next the cars were penned in with barriers, new technology brought the drivers view to the television screen. The barriers zinged past your eyes at one hundred miles per hour and more, and there was the bluster and screaming of the highly tuned, high revving one thousand horse power engines as the driver changed up and down the gearbox in rapid movement, while wrestling the wheel trying to tame the four wheeled beast around him. This is the Formula 1 racing I started with. The fire breathing monsters.
Then there were the drivers, not shackled by political correctness, full of character and full of emotion. Often there would be laughing and joking, then wild gestures or even fights breaking out in the sand traps, when disagreement in blame boiled over.
Just as the grand prix racing was getting more regular in my life, a young Brazilian driver named Ayrton Senna arrived, a clearly gifted driver, he would pull pace from a car that had no right of having any. He would embarrass many a highly funded veteran while driving only his crapbox Toleman, a middling team at best. Also he was a quirky character, with much charisma despite his geeky appearance.
I watched Ayrton rise through the teams, eventually getting to McLaren, the cream of the crop at that time. The Honda engines would power that car to dominant wins, and carry Ayrton to three championships. I would cheer for Ayrton, as my workmate would cheer for his rival, the Englishman Mansell. My support of the foreign driver a mystery to him.
Then came a new challenge for Ayrton, a new car and also a new driver on the block, a young man named Schumacher from Germany, who I kept a close eye on, clearly he had an extra something when he arrived, as with Ayrton before, the car would carry more speed than his team mate in identical machinery. Ayrton was struggling with his new team, Williams were on the cusp of being fast but the car was recalcitrant, and at Imola in Italy, tragically the car’s frailties cost him his life. I remember shedding many tears when my hero passed, for many days I was in disbelief.
But life lumbers on, caring little for those that pass. Yet lessons were learned, and cars were made safer, as were the circuits.
Technology moved on too, as Schumacher exerted his strength, cars were being laden with easier gearboxes, merely pull a lever without moving your hands from the wheel, engines were homogenised. No longer would there be the variety in the engines tune, all sang a similar song, yet this song was tooth rattlingly loud. Having missed the era of Ayrton Senna, I started to attend formula 1 races. I was immediately struck by the brutality of these machines in real life, what was numbed on television, became crisp and clear, every shuffle of the tyre across the tarmac and every pop and crackle of the engine came to my senses vividly, a highly visceral experience.
Again I was on the opposite side of my workmates support. The Englishman now being Hill vs the German Schumacher. You can imagine the reception a partisan nationalistic English crowd gives a dominating German.
Schumacher too moved up through the teams and eventually hit the highs in the most beautiful of cars, the Ferrari, he won a frankly ridiculous seven world championships. Then as all do, his production declined and others arrived. But there was no driver that hooked me again, no budding spark caught my eye, perhaps the media brush had painted them too similarly.
The cars engines began to shrink, no longer did they howl, no longer did they bark, they simply farted and whined. Rules changed, and the engineers got too clever at their game. The race now predicted on computer, they tell the driver how to drive, when to stop, when to wipe his arse. All so planned and predictable. Now the engines shrink once again, using electricity and all manner of technology that brings little but sleep. The racing too, there is little, one team is fastest, and they will win, every race, every weekend. So with the neutered cars, the dominant team, the love for this sport, falls like sand through my fingers.