RORY'S RAMBLINGS - An Occasional Column from the Antipodes

Rory's Ramblings

The Sum Of Its Parts
No. 22, 16 July, 1996
by Rory Gordon

Last time, I rambled on about timing and the splits of splits of seconds. I talked about time and us as human beings. And I talked about our ability to react to events rather than think about them. I ended up by asking whether reaction times were a reason why F1 drivers seem so young.

It's one of those almost perennial questions, isn't it? As you grow older and older, the policemen seem to be getting younger and younger. Of course, they're not. We all know that it's just us getting older while the policeman on the street is a different, fresh, young policeman.

There were rumours at the start of the 1996 F1 season that Alain Prost may make a return to competitive F1. He'd signed up with McLaren and was rumoured to be doing a lot of testing. But it all turned out to be just rumours. While he was able to produce some very fast times in testing, it perhaps would have been a different matter to produce those performances in the hurly-burly of races. Perhaps Prost felt that his reaction times, after two years away from F1 driving, were no longer quite as good as they had been.

Prost was one of those F1 drivers seem to go on and on, in all he did 13 seasons of F1. Gerhard Berger is currently one of the oldest and most experienced - the two don't necessarily go hand in hand - F1 drivers, with 1996 being his 13th season of F1. He's regarded in some places as the elder statesman of F1 drivers. In other places, they say he's "had it".

Berger has won 9 Grands Prix. Only 7 other current drivers have won a GP and, of them, 5 drivers have 6 wins between them - all in 1995 or 1996. Berger has climbed to the podium, at some stage, every season since 1986. And, like Martin Brundle, Berger was born in 1959, so he is certainly one of the older drivers in F1 (Damon Hill, incidentally, is another as he was born in 1960). By the end of this season, Berger will be nudging on membership of the 200 GP club, a rather exclusive club with only 3 members. Only last season, he clocked up two fastest race laps. Finally, he has consistently rated in the Top Ten Drivers in Autocourse.

[Personally, just in case you couldn't tell, I like Berger. I think he brightens up F1 considerably. To coin a phrase, he's "been there, done that" and has little to prove, except perhaps to himself. His English can border on the atrocious or even the unintelligible, but he's not afraid to tell it like it is ... and he's willing to demonstrate his sense of humour.]

Looking at his recent record, it seems to indicate that he still has "it". The death of Ayrton Senna shook up Berger badly, so badly that he nearly gave up F1. But he's still with us. It is at times like that that a driver may lose "it".

All this does depend on what your definition of "it" is.

To a certain extent, there's the timing - the reaction time. There would have to be the sheer ability to drive an F1 car, which is a fragile and finikity beast at the best of times, at its limit. And there would have the "brave" factor, too.

The "brave" factor is, I suppose you could say, the willingness to drive that car on an F1 circuit in an F1 race. It's all very well being able to drive an F1 car - most of us probably have the ability to drive an F1 car on a closed circuit (and most of us would probably like to give it a go, too!) - but being willing to do it is another matter altogether.

It's one of those times where the question of being extremely brave or extremely stupid arises, and the line between the two is very thin.

First of all, I believe that you have to have a huge self-confidence, almost an over-powering ego. You MUST believe in yourself and your ability, not only to drive the car, but also to actually win races. Otherwise, why would you do it?

Then you must have a confidence in your own survival, the old "it can't happen to me" sort of thing. Frankly, I worry when I cross the highway, just around the corner from my home, to go and get a newspaper. If one of those drivers hits me, even at 60 kilometres an hour, I'll be a nasty mess at the very least and in some serious pain ... and I have quite a dislike of pain, and I loathe personal pain.

For an F1 driver, if he seriously thought about the risks he is about to take when he goes to get into his car, then he wouldn't even get into it. When Senna crashed, I remember my second thought - the first is definitely not mentionable in the vicinity of children and people with delicate dispositions - was along the lines of "not Senna ... anyone but Senna."

For some of the drivers, roughly the same thought must have gone through their heads too. And then it would possibly have been followed by the thought that if a crash could happen to Senna, then it could happen to them too.

But then the "brave" factor would have taken over ... or rather, it would have re-asserted itself and those negative thoughts would have been banished to the backs of their minds once again.

So, what is "it"? "It" must surely be the sum of its parts - some of which I probably have missed here. Without each of the constituent parts, "it" just doesn't exist. But, overall I think that "it" is mainly made up of the self-confidence factor, the ego-trip. If you don't believe in yourself, then you will never believe that you are capable of doing things (a somewhat tautological statement).

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon
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