Tuesday, 3rd July saw the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) invite F1 fans to put their questions to the great and good of Formula 1.
I must confess that the lack of current F1 drivers on display was a massive disappointment with only Pastor Maldonado there to meet and greet the fans, sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Being a Williams fan, I was in my element at ‘HQ’ where I have been lucky enough to be invited to in the past. To meet ‘the animal’ Maldonado was great, I told him not to change his electric driving style and best of luck for Silverstone.
The highlight for me was just as the Forum got under way when Lee McKenzie introduced Sir Frank Williams to the stage. Sir Frank is a big hero of mine and I can’t help but to get goose bumps on my arms when he entered the room. He gave a short speech to us, thanking us for coming, talked a little about the season so far before turning his attention to Pastor. He told the audience the he was a blisteringly quick driver, who you underestimate at your peril. He went on to poke fun at his driver adding that he always said the right thing at the wrong time.
In my account of the day, I’m going to leave aside the questions that were put to the main panel of team bosses (Whitmarsh, Brawn and Fearny). Instead, I’m going to concentrate on the second part of the evening, where we were entertained by the legends panel of Patrick Head, Derek Warwick and John Watson.
Quite predictably, the first few questions were aimed at Derek Warwick and the investment plans for Silverstone. His answer was that ‘talks were on going with two different parties’. Which translated into English means no, we still need a bucket load of money!
The conversation soon turned to racing of yesteryear and what an insightful conversation it was. Both Warwick and Watson told us of the special mind set a driver needs to put aside tragedy on the track so they were able to jump back in the car. Warwick in particular struck a chord with me on this subject as he told us how he had promised his family that he would never race again after his brother was killed on an on-track accident.
He told us of the special ‘safe’ in the back of your mind that a racing driver puts these types of thoughts into before heading out on track. He and Watson went on to tell us about two other occasions when they needed to use this technique. Watson told of about the death of François Cevert at the 1973 US GP. After he was killed, Watson said to Ecclestone, his team principleat Brabham that he didn’t think the race should go on. Bernie turned to him and bluntly said that ‘Cevert died doing the one thing that he wanted to do, the same thing that everyone on this grid wants to do so go out there and do it’. Watson added that this was when he learnt to use the safe box in his mind.
Warwick finished off this fascinating part of the conversation by answering a question about his 1990 team mate, Martin Donnelly’s crash at Spain that year. Derek told us that both he and Martin knew the car wasn’t safe that year. After the horrific crash, Derek’s wife pleaded with him not to race.
As he arrived at the track the following morning, he was 90% certain that he wasn’t going to race. Upon arriving in his garage, he was greeted by the sight of his mechanics, which had been up all night, fitting titanium plates in the cockpit to add strength and rigidity. Warwick also mentioned the terrible financial plight of the team at that time.
He told us that’ if he didn’t get back in that car that weekend, that could have well been the end of Team Lotus!’
Derek took his modified Lotus out for qualifying and on his first approach to the corner where Martin had is accident 24 hour earlier and went through there flat out for the first time of the weekend.
Tales like this only come to the surface after a driver has retired and I could have listened to the trio all night long.