Plain Speaking

By Karl Ludvigsen, England
Atlas F1 Senior Writer

"When the Flag Drops" is the title of Jack Brabham's autobiography. It stands nicely on its own, a neat title for a racing driver's book. But of course it's only part of the quote that continues with "the bullshit stops." I'm not sure if the quote is attributable to Brabham, but it would neatly suit his no-nonsense approach to racing. Jack didn't say much, but what he did say was straight from the heart.

I was reminded of Jack's book title and the whole sentence by some of the comments that came out of last weekend's race at Spa. Take Patrick Head of Williams, for example. "Just as we got quite a few things right yesterday," he said on Sunday after the race, "we made some very severe errors today both in the settings of the car and with problems that occurred on the grid. The important thing is we understand what we have done and make sure we put it right in the future. It is quite clear we have still got a lot to learn."

What is he talking about? Williams, of all people, still having a lot to learn? We're talking about the team that has scored 106 victories from 392 starts in Formula One. The team that has won nine Constructors' Championships, in 1996 amassing a total of 175 points, putting all its rivals well in the shade. Any team with such a record could well have concluded that it had precious little to learn.

But Head knows differently. He knows that any team has turnover of personnel. He knows that Williams was raided by others during its journeyman years with customer engines while it was waiting for BMW, years during which sexier teams with more sponsorship were able to grab some of its experienced personnel. By saying in public that Williams has a lot to learn, Head is laying down the gauntlet to every member of the team. They know what is expected of them, and expected sooner rather than later. Head knows that plain speaking is required.

And what about Jaguar's race at Spa? So far this season we have been hearing the emollient corporate-speak of Bobby Rahal. As we can now see clearly, Bobby has been operating in a politically charged situation - something that Ford is very good at creating. His public statements were always calculated to soothe his bosses and the public alike. Nothing too controversial, always stressing that steady striving toward "respectability".

With Niki Lauda at Jaguar, goodbye to bullshit and hello to frank speaking. "A terrible weekend for Jaguar Racing," said the Austrian. "Not the best first weekend in charge, but I learned a lot. The race situation was out of our control and I'm not putting any blame on the drivers today. They did their best, but we as a team should be doing a lot better over a three-day weekend. It's no good putting all your eggs into the race and we must arrive on the grid in far better shape and far higher up the order."

This is the kind of stuff that's needed to get the Jaguar team off its fat ass. One of the all-time plain speakers of motor racing is in a job where this talent can contribute to success. Jaguar came to Spa with some excellent new tweaks, both aerodynamic and mechanical, but who would know it? The team wasn't able to get its act together well enough to deploy its technology effectively. They know it, and now they know that Niki knows it too. Lauda is a man who has been there, done that. He feels free to speak out when it's deserved. He doesn't need Jaguar, but Jaguar needs him. I hope that this will help him steer well clear of the political reefs at Ford.

Lauda has to take care in one area, however. He mustn't wear out his welcome with the high muck-a-mucks at Ford the way Jackie Stewart did. By the time the Stewart Grand Prix era was ending, higher-ups at Ford wouldn't take his phone calls. They didn't relish another ear-bashing from Stewart about their shortcomings of vision and sponsorship. Lauda must, first, make the most of what he has and then put a longer-term plan in place and get the backing he needs from both Ford and Jaguar.

Speaking of frank speaking, I would hope that Eddie Irvine is not long for the Jaguar job. Lauda will see through him like a pane of glass. Here's a case of an outspoken guy - but to what purpose? By now everyone at Jaguar must be aware that he has little to offer beyond a certain talent and notoriety. Any dreams he had of "doing a Schumacher" by lifting Jaguar from obscurity to victory as Michael did at Ferrari must be well and truly dashed for both sides. The sooner Jaguar restructures its entire driving cadre to build for the future, the better. The rumour that the experienced Mark Blundell might join the test-driving strength was a good sign.

Some of racing's strongest characters have not hesitated to call a spade a bloody shovel. Brazilians Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna come quickly to mind. So do Bernie Ecclestone and the much-missed Ken Tyrrell. They were not always loved but, boy, did they get results. And results are what's needed in Formula One "when the flag drops."

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Print Version

Volume 7, Issue 36
September 5th 2001

Atlas F1 Exclusive

Bobby's Bad Joke: How Irvine and Lauda Got the Last Laugh
by Biranit Goren

Belgian GP Review

The Belgian GP Review
by Pablo Elizalde

The Red Sea Saga
by Richard Barnes

Plain Speaking
by Karl Ludvigsen


Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

The F1 Insider
by Mitch McCann

Season Strokes - the GP Cartoon
by Bruce Thomson

The Weekly Grapevine
by the F1 Rumors Team

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