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What It Takes to be an F1 Star

Do I have it?


The purpose of the post is one of my long-time passions, Formula 1 motor racing. I've written at length about this absorbing sport on my personal site, and so it seems like a good topic to cover as the 2017 season prepares to get underway. F1 is a combination of man and machine, the fine-tuning of delicate cars that are designed to be glued to the road by sheer downforce, driven by the most confident of racers, the very best of which are almost arrogant in their self-belief. 

And they have to be arrogant. They have to know, beyond question, that they are the best. That only they can tame the fast car they drive enough to win races and championships. In a way, the shocked meerkat above is utterly appropriate for my awe of what they do - imagine cornering at speeds of forty miles an hour around the streets of Monaco with only a helmet to protect you from serious injury if you crash - forty miles an hour isn't quick by F1 standards, but get into your car and take a bend at such speed and you will have a greater understanding of what F1 drivers do. 

F1 is also a dance of trust. You need to have complete and utter faith that the driver in front of, alongside and behind you is not going to do anything stupid and hit you, even as you ruthlessly duel for position. You need to have total trust in your engineers and pit crew, who often work extremely long hours and are unsung heroes of the sport. There's so much more to F1 than race day.

There's also a rich history to Formula 1. Present-day drivers are often compared to past champions, and the sport itself has evolved at a staggering pace. One of the first champions, the late Juan Manuel Fangio, would not recognise many of the elements of today's F1 - though the aspects of confidence and trust would be familiar. His five titles were won in the 1950s, in cars that have nothing in common with today's beasts. The attitudes toward safety were very different back then, and to have simply survived is an achievement in itself.

Flash forward to the 1970s, and Niki Lauda. An era when the cars start to look more like what we have today. A time when on average, two drivers died every year. Lauda's bravery - in 1976 he was badly burned in an accident and even read the Last Rites - is one of the subjects of the movie Rush, which sums up the cavalier nature of the sport during this time. The 80s saw cars become more powerful than they've ever been, to the point where steps were taken to reduce that power. It also saw the arrival of Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna, and saw dramatic and sometimes bitter rivalries with Nelson Piquet and Alain Prost. Some fans liken this to F1's golden age, and today's top stars are often compared to, and inspired by, these titans. Lewis Hamilton is a huge Senna fan, and the Brazilian's death in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix has left a permanent mark on the sport.

What these drivers do is still dangerous. Jules Bianchi sustained what would sadly prove to be fatal injuries at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, serving as a harsh reminder of that danger. I am not sure if I could personally get back behind the wheel in such circumstances, but by doing so Bianchi's colleagues honour him - he would not want anyone to quit because of him. 

I don't know how to best sum up Formula 1. I have watched it since the golden age. I have seen Mansell and Senna have a drag race at 150 mph. I saw Prost and Senna's infamous 1989 collision in Japan. I saw Mika Haikkinen and Michael Schumacher go toe-to-toe in a brilliant moment in Belgium in 2000. I was fortunate enough to personally attend the 2013 British Grand Prix, and experience the raw power of these cars first hand. I love this sport, I embrace it completely, and I cannot wait for the 2017 season to get underway.

Much of the above has a purpose beyond simply discussing the merits of F1. You see, as a kid (and funnily enough, as an adult too), I would have given my front teeth to be an F1 driver. However, as a career path, would I have what it takes?

Forget the fitness aspect, which has never been more important - the key area for me would be focus. Could I have the focus, both off-track and on it? I am not exactly known for my great concentration, so would I, personally, have ever been able to make a career in motorsport work? Probably not. That doesn't mean I couldn't imagine it though. What would it be like to an F1 driver who has made it big time? Well, for one thing, money would never be an issue again - and for another, the sheer excitement of it - getting behind the wheel of a superfast machine and tackling some of the world's most famous circuits... wow.

But beyond that lies a different side to it. Nigel Mansell's autobiography touched upon the constant traveling and time away from one's family. Lewis Hamilton's parents had to make a lot of sacrifices to get him into F1. Mark Webber had to fight tooth and nail to make it. At various points all of them thought they wouldn't make it, but had the strength to prevail. Could I do that? Could I separate myself from my loved ones to do the thing I love? Or would that be a sacrifice too far?

The bottom line is, fantasies about being an F1 racer are as far as I feel I can go. Even a full-race weekend on a game feels like a drain, given the time it takes to simulate a full experience, and I haven't even left my living room for that. I don't think I would have the strength of character or the concentration to be doing it for real, so I will settle for being an armchair fan.

Ben Berwick
Ben Berwick

So I found out abou this via Twitter, and thought I'd check it out. I was promised food, and I am still waiting, but in the meantime, you'll find out about me via my posts.

If you get the chance, please check out www.meerkatmusings.co.uk


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