John Button

One of my favourite people in Formula 1 has left us.

John Button was a man who got so many things right. 

John raised a son who has kept his head firmly on his shoulders despite the mega-stardom that his career has brought. I remember checking in at the Suzuka Circuit hotel next to John and Jenson. John insisted there be an iron in Jenson’s room. I was a bit surprised, and John saw the quizzical look on my face. “He irons his own shirts man, and he always will”, he told me. Jenson just smiled. It’s not easy to raise a talented child, and even harder to raise him or her balanced and healthy and good. John made that look easy.

Rather than try to (micro)manage Jenson’s career, John stepped back, and clearly spent the last bunch of years pinching himself. He thoroughly loved the life that Jenson’s success brought him, but never took it as HIS success. He was humble, full of joy, and a true bon vivant.

John, I’m gonna miss you . . . a lot. I treasure having met you and spent time with you. Jenson, my deepest condolences to you and everyone you love, and to everyone who loves John. Remembering our talks, time we spent at the bar in Sao Paulo, and other lovely moments, will keep John present for me.

Bye John. God speed.

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Just a short one, then i’m done . . . really . . . no really

There’s one thing I totally forgot to say, and that’s congrats to NASCAR for this initiative. Another of Sid’s legacies is smashing through what was was for a long time an impenetrable barrier – the Atlantic. It’s so reassuring to see everybody on the same page in terms of offering the safest environment possible to motorsports participants. Both before AND after something happens.

People disagree about things that seem no-brainers, and they do so sincerely and often for very profound reasons. Stuff that has to do with fundamental conceptions of autonomy etc. So it’s also normal that those visions can clash . . . but at the end of the day all you can do is talk it out. 

Once again, the concussion prevention and management program NASCAR is putting together is a HUGE step forward for everybody. Thanks so much.

Now THIS is interesting

Now THIS is interesting

Just been sent this link to an article in today’s Telegraph. It concerns a letter sent by the RAC to the FIA back in July.

In it, the RAC poses some important and unsettling questions about the lack of financial transparency of the FIA. Among other things, it specifically points out Jean Todt’s “Personnel expenses of €6.1m and €8.3m for travel, missions and conferences.” I’ve already mentioned that most if not all of the President’s travel is by private jet (among other things, we were issued with team itineraries for races with flights for all team members, including the president, when he attended a race). Presumably so is that of the “ambassadors” for the Action for Road Safety. If this program has one concrete achievement, it’s certainly that of allowing the participants to see the world comfortably.

In an era of economic crisis, when we on the inside were subject to constant cost pressures, it is reassuring to see a major ASN questioning the old club style of governance, potentially playing fast and loose with members’ money.

That said, almost more important than the issue it raises (which also forms a key part of David Ward’s manifesto) is that this letter indicates a crumbling of Todt’s internal support structure. Remember, Graham Stoker (UK RAC and MSA) is one of Todt’s Deputy Presidents and a key member of his slate. Certainly this letter would not have been sent without Mr. Stoker’s approval. When we see the rumors of a possible opposition candidacy from another key member of the slate, I think it safe to say that Mr. Todt might do well to begin to do some post-presidential career planning. 

For info, the dates for the introduction of candidates are from 26/10 to 15/11.

An open letter to the future President

Dear Mr. President,

Today we learned of the death of Sean Edwards. It’s been a rough season. You know that at least as well as any of us. The fact that we know you share our deep sadness and sense of loss is important to every fan of motorsports – it is true that tragedy draws us together. And this sense of connection can and should be leveraged to make our sport better – safer, cleaner, more popular and accessible. This is why I’m writing.

In what will no doubt be a flood of comments, criticisms and suggestions, I would like to discuss an initiative that may be a fruitful way forward as concerns driver safety. I refer to it as “Cockpit-out design”. Let me explain.

When designing a racing car for any given formula or series, I believe that the starting point for the engineer should logically be a set of “best practice” guidelines for creating the safest environment currently possible for the driver. Only when this is done should the engineer begin the process of “surrounding” the driver with the highest performance vehicle allowed by the regulations. This is what I mean by “cockpit-out design”. As you fully understand, this is pretty much the opposite of the historic way of creating a race car. Only a more or less limited set of regulatory requirements (depending on the formula or series) need be incorporated, often as “engineering afterthoughts” into a car entirely conceived for performance, at least as concerns the driver’s immediate environment.

Several steps will be necessary before instituting this kind of process. These are of several orders – philosophical, scientific, logistical and administrative.

Philosophically, it appears to me (admittedly not the most objective observer) logical that in the design and construction of a racing car in the second decade of the 21st century, the driver would be provided with a workspace that is the fruit of current knowledge as concerns safety. Discussion of the concept widely, with an emphasis that this should in no way (quite the contrary!) compromise performance. The various relevant FIA Commissions must discuss these ideas until the concept becomes engrained at all levels of the sport.

In terms of science, let’s be perfectly clear. When using current best practices, and following modern engineering principles the modern racing car is a remarkably safe and well constructed vehicle considering the energies involved. That said, the current set of regulations have been arrived at individually, piecemeal. Again, the ensemble (collapsible steering columns, foam head surrounds, etc) is remarkably effective; most of these steps have been arrived at as the fruit of research.

What is needed is a fully international consensus as to exactly WHAT constitutes the safest cockpit possible . . . today. All aspects must be considered, thinking both structurally (e.g. the safest seat) as well as functionally (what are the injuries and what must we do to prevent them?). A major conference, calling on experts from relevant fields should be called with an aim to coordinating working groups. The goal would be the creation of a series of medical-rescue regulations for FIA formulae, and which could be copy/pasted by ASNs and other series.

Administratively, prior to presentation to the World Motor Sport Council, such regulations would need to be “bounced” back and forth among the various Commissions, ideally shepherded forward by a group of wise men, to avoid the initiative being lost in commission politics and/or deviating too far from original intentions.

Logistically, this need take account of the significant amount of time for each cycle of conception, design and fabrication of a series or formula car. Cars in the pipeline must be the last cars made before universal application of “cockpit-out design”.

I’m at your disposal to discuss any or all of this at your best convenience.

And congratulations.

-Gary