Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The thing about age

So here’s the thing. I was watching a review at the weekend of the 1993 Indycar World Series. You know the one with Mansell winning it straight after his F1 championship. It was quite well known.

For me it was the finest season of motorsport, ever, anywhere. I watched a full replay of the Indy 500 that year on YouTube the other day and I was glued throughout. With all due respect, I can’t do that these days with Formula One.

Then it struck me. The leading contenders that year were ‘old’ when you compare that to the present day. Think back to ’93 – Mansell, Fittipaldi, (Mario) Andretti. All over 40. Some over 50. Yet they were still at the sharp end, fighting tooth and nail. I think the battle between Mansell and Fittipaldi at Cleveland’s airport circuit was one of the finest battles ever in motorsport history. Gripping, edgy, lively, gutsy… it was all there.

So this got me wondering about age in motorsport, hence my blog today.

In other sports, physically you are limited when it comes to age. Your body performs better at a younger age – fact. But what about motorsport? Surely if that were true then younger drivers at the time – Paul Tracey for example – would have performed better in Indycar 1993. Or was it just inexperience?

Is motorsport - particularly F1 – now almost obsessed with young drivers? Are ‘junior programmes’ REALLY necessary or is it just based on commercial interests? It’s an interesting debate.

I’d love to put a series of drivers from teenage to 50 in the same car and see who would come out on top. Would younger age beat experience? Intriguing…

Monday, 17 October 2016

Help me get on the grid (well, sort of)

So the motorsport season at large – with the exception of a few – is coming to an end. It’s been incredible once again. Across the categories there’s been classic close racing, strong grids, a last race BTCC title decider and a new F1 champion (well, maybe!).

For me, as most of the teams get to enjoy a small amount of peace and quiet before next season, it’s an opportune moment to address the motorsport industry with a personal message – I can help you in 2017.

Let me explain why. In a nutshell, my time in motorsport isn’t finished yet. I’m 32 and I have many more skills to give now than I ever have. In other words…my motorsport mission is incomplete.

I’m a motorsport PR and marketing specialist primarily, although I’m not working in the industry at the moment. So what actual motorsport experience do I have? In 2007, I was press officer for the Sibsport independent team in the BTCC, who ran an ex-Team Halfords Honda Integra. It was a great experience and something that I will remember forever. I got involved with everything, from writing pre and post-race reports to arranging local TV interviews. I even created a competition that, to my knowledge, no one else had ever run in the BTCC.

Away from this, I’ve worked for some of the world’s leading motorsport suppliers when I was working in a leading motorsport marketing agency. This included gearbox manufacturers, brake specialists, race car builders and even a fire safety firm. I also worked agency side for Donington Park, where I played a key role in an exciting BTCC media day at Alton Towers in 2012.

From car launches to brochures, I've got a lot of skills honed in motorsport

I’m active in motorsport on a personal level too. Together with this blog, I have various social media outlets. I also do a lot of motorsport photography when I get the chance. I’ve even got a National B racing license so I can pretend I’m the new Ayrton Senna (one can dream!).

So what is the point of me writing this blog? Well, just to let you know I’m in the market and would happily discuss terms with anyone. Freelance, weekends or even full time…I need to get back into the paddock.

Thanks for reading; I hope this catches someone’s eye.

Jon Bennett

Twitter: @jbautosport

Friday, 16 September 2016

A true inspiration

I’m writing this just as the 2016 Rio Paralympics is coming to an end. I’ve been so busy recently that I sadly haven’t seen much of it first hand, so I have had to keep up to speed with things via the various sport news apps I have on my phone.

The inspiring stories from these amazing athletes are never ending. I’m probably biased due to my love of motorsport - as you’ll all probably have guessed by now – but the story coming from across the Atlantic regarding Alex Zinardi has blown me away. Perhaps though it’s the general public’s reaction to his achievements that has made me realise what a true hero figure he actually is.

By way of a background, if you don’t know his story, here’s a brief run down.His F1 career started with Jordan in 1991, ending in 1994 after the Lotus team folded. After a brief stint driving in sportscars, he joined the US-based CART series. He won the championship in 1997 and 1998 before switching back to F1 for a year with Williams. He eventually returned to CART.

On September 15th 2001, at a race that was held as a ‘memorial’ to the terrorist attacks in the USA 4 days earlier, he was involved in an accident at the CART race at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany. Gravely injured, his legs were amputated - one at and one above the knee. Having been so close to death, it must have been so easy to give up. But that’s not the Zinardi way.

He began a rapid, tough rehabilitation. He even designed his own legs. With hand controls, he did ceremonial laps in a CART machine just two years after his accident and his time would have put him fifth of the grid in the race that same race. This inspired him to make a racing return in touring cars, winning races from 2005-2009 before he retired. At the same time, he started handcycling, for which he is now a legend.  

His emotional reaction to the gold medal in the Men’s Time Trial T5 at the Rio Paralympics led to an amazing reaction across Social Media and it was clear it impacted a lot of people. One of my favourite quotes given after this latest Paralympic triumph, he said: “Day by day I managed to regain control and strength, regain some confidence and concentrate on different things and here I am now.”
Of all the Social Media comments I’ve seen, this one had the most impact - from Channel4's 'The Last Leg' – and I don’t think I’m the only one!
Zinardi certainly has inspired me over the years. When you’ve been through what he has and he’s so positive, it teaches us all a bit of lesson.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Put the brakes on, F1

As I do every year, I looked forward to the revealing of most of the F1 cars ahead of the new season this week.

The rule changes for the 2014 season have been a talking point for a long time now and represent one of the biggest changes the sport has seen in decades. And what a change it proved to be when the teams (apart from Lotus) turned up in Jerez, Spain for the first test of the year.

After day one of the test, Roger Benoit, one of the most experienced correspondents in F1 circles, was quoted on the website that the initial day of testing was ‘embarrassing’. Most cars only completed a handful of laps, with some not even managing that. 

Looks only a mother could love? 2014 noses are causing a stir

Before the cars even took to the track however, it was clear that in most cases the beauty of an F1 car's design has now largely been ruined by the odd and really quite stupid noses sections that have resulted from rule changes. They also look dangerous and as I write this the governing body is seeking reassurance that the designs of the noses will be safe, even though the cars have passed crash tests.

When I was growing up, F1 cars looked fantastic - they were beautiful machines and they sounded amazing too. Now their designs and sounds are not driven by passion, more science. But passion is the essence, the origin of F1. Not science.

Whilst the ‘glory days’ of expensive launches involving the Spice Girls and unlimited testing are now long gone (unfortunate but understandable), F1 really needs to re-invent itself to the fans, especially after the latter part of last season which was to everyone apart from Vettel's fans, really bland. These new rule changes have so far worsened my ever fading view of the sport I grew up loving and always wanted to be part of. I cannot imagine that F1 will attract new fans in significant numbers at the moment. It is also obvious by the lack of sponsors on cars that companies aren't that thrilled either.

It's surely time to revert back to a simpler way of thinking and to stop messing around with the rules every 5 minutes.

It will be interesting to see how the season pans out. All I can say is that the racing better be good...otherwise F1's future will surely be questioned. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Patience F1Team

It's a few days after the 2013 Formula One season has come to an end. Personally I'm glad it is over following the dominance of a certain Mr Vettel, yet for other reasons, I feel this season was refreshing. This was pretty much down to one driver - Frenchman Romain Grosjean. 

Towards the end of the 2012 season, Grosjean (or 'Goujon' as my girlfriend calls him) was under more pressure than any driver on the grid. Whilst undeniably quick, he'd was involved in several high profile accidents and he was being verbally targeted by drivers up and down the grid following a series of collisions that led to him being banned for one race. I've been a big supporter of Grosjean since he joined 'Ice Man' Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus at the start of 2012 but at the end of the season, even I thought his days were numbered and he was off to race in sportscars. 

But Lotus had patience, something which most F1 teams don't have (or can't have, depending on how you look at it). Fantastically, their patience was more than rewarded. As Raikkonen tailed off, falling back and eventually not taking part in the last two races in 2013, the Lotus 'star' baton was rapidly passing on to Grosjean. 

Taking the fight to the dominant Red Bull's as best he could, Grosjean's performances in the latter part of the season were nothing less than spectacular, with some of his critics from 2012 becoming his praisers in 2013. Even the 4 time World Champion Vettel was impressed. Grosjean was, without doubt, one of the biggest stars of 2013 - a titanic change to 12 months earlier. 

Formula One teams need money more than ever as the recession is still hitting the sport. This is why a driver like Pastor Maldonado, who many people find questionable as a front running driver yet has a serious amount of financial backing, is holding all the cards in terms of what's left of the remaining empty F1 cockpits (Lotus being one of them). In a world like this, it's so refreshing that a team like Lotus can be patient and trust in a driver turning things around, especially as their finances have been questioned too.

Other teams, even outside Formula One, should take this as a lesson from the faith Lotus have shown in Grosjean.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

My First Race...15 Years Ago Today

It's a typical late British summer’s day. The weather is overcast – warm but with a bit of a chill in the air. I don't mind this though as this is my first experience of a motor race, live and in person. Little did I know at the time that this is a day that would affect my life in a big way.
The date is September 13th 1998 – 15 years to the day before I wrote this blog post. It's a Sunday race day at the fastest race circuit in the country, Thruxton.
I had been to the track once before in passing with my Dad when we were coming back from London on the A303. I’d heard the race engine notes from inside the car and asked Dad to pull in.  We drove into the circuit and parked near the final chicane (Club). I remember climbing the little spectator bank and there, coming through the chicane, was The Stig!! Well, it was actually Ben Collins, who became the famous character from Top Gear. Ben was driving a Dallara F398 for the Intersport team and was competing in the 1998 Autosport British Formula Three championship.
I returned to the circuit in September, but this time, it was a proper race in that year’s F3 championship – round 14 to be exact. There was such an atmosphere and it was a real thrill to be experiencing a high octane race meeting live in the flesh. To be able to walk around the paddock, see into the garages, smell the fuel and meet the leading drivers was great – especially as a 15 year old.

Andrej Pavicevic, Fortec Motorsport

I actually remember very little about the race itself. The driver who shined for me was an Australian called Andrej Pavicevic. I’m pretty sure he qualified second and as he’d been very kind to me earlier in the day chatting to me about his car, I’d turned into a fan. The driver I’d followed all year however was a Brazilian, Enrique Bernoldi, who at the time was leading the championship. Unfortunately, Thruxton would mark a bad run of form for him, with a series of retirements losing him the championship to countryman Mario Haberfeld. However, Enrique still drove in Formula One a few years later, for the Orange Arrows team in 2001 and 2002. During the race I remember his distinctive yellow and blue Promatecme UK team car pulling over (or spinning, I can’t remember!) and Enrique walking back, dejected, through the grass towards the back of the paddock. This was pretty much the defining moment in the race and pretty much all I specifically remember.

The racing, the emotions, the smell, the noise all helped fuel my passion for the sport. It’s a day I’ll never forget and ironically I probably now have driven more laps around Thruxton than some of the drivers who were on the grid on that September day!

Friday, 19 April 2013

The race that could change the world

Motorsport has become cleaner, especially across Europe, with hybrids now fairly commonplace especially in sports car racing. But let’s be honest, it’s never really firmly grabbed the imagination.
Formula E could change the game. Due to launch next year in an 8-round series, this single seater concept could finally be a real answer to motorsport’s ‘green’ problem.
The man behind the series, Alejandro Agag, looks like a slick chap. He’s clearly got the right contacts and can make his mark politically. Plus Formula E is all about the green issue, promoting zero emissions, which is very much a current automotive industry focus.
The lack of emissions and engine sound also opens up a whole new world of potential circuits, with street races now a real possibility where traditional motorsport would not stand a chance.  A race in London is pencilled in for 2014 with the support of the legend that is Mayor Boris Johnson, with LA and Rome also included on the calendar.
Big brands are keen on the series too it seems, such as Michelin and Renault. The series also has some high profile series supporters.
It all sounds positive so far but in my view it needs other ingredients to work. It needs to capture a fan base and a TV audience. Without those two the sponsors won’t turn up and the investment will be lower. As we all know money rules, especially on four wheels.
An impressive TV deal is vital then, as is having some leading drivers to bring in an audience. It’s been mentioned, however, that the series should be focussing on advanced technology more so than good racing, but it’s my view that the two should run in parallel. If the racing proves dull, audiences will switch off, which would be a catalyst of failure.
Formula E is a step change in motorsport – but the fact it’s green doesn’t guarantee it will work.