Karun Chandhok’s Motorsport Icons Part – 1
Alain Prost was never the popular choice for the fans. He didn’t have the charisma of Senna or Lauda or the inherent on track drama that seemed to follow Nigel Mansell or Gilles Villeneuve. I was always a massive Prost fan however and through the 1980s he was the standout driver winning more races than anyone. His ability to drive in an effortless style and look deceptively slow put very little strain on the car. His tactical brain during the fuel-limited turbo era earned him the nickname “The Professor”. By the end of 1993, Alain won 4 world championships and an amazing 51 Grand Prix, especially when you consider he raced in an era with less races and much more reliability issues than Schumcher had a decade later. A small bit of luck would have won him the championship in 1983 and 1984 and people often forget that Prost actually out scored Ayrton Senna in 1988, although for that brief period they had to drop their two best points scores. Being politically savvy and choosing the right team at the right time is very important in F1 (just ask Fernando Alonso!) and very few drivers can say that they raced for Mclaren, Ferrari, Williams and Renault, and won races for all of them.
The mercurial Brazilian may well be the most iconic name in the history of our sport. Incredibly intelligent, intense and charismatic, Senna was a unique character and someone who could be completely ruthless on track, but also a very kind hearted and caring man. There were few things more awe-inspiring in the world of racing than watching Ayrton going for it on a qualifying lap. The confidence and control with which he would attack the lap is something that will inspire generations. Senna had an extraordinary talent and made an immediate impact as soon as he arrived in Formula 1 but also had this dark side which showed up at its worst in 1990 when he deliberately took his arch rival Alain Prost out of the Japanese Grand Prix. His fatal accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix is still one of the most shocking moments in sporting history. The outpouring of grief and emotion at his funeral in Brazil told the story of just how much he meant to the country. The best driver in history? Arguably. The fastest driver in history? Certainly.
Picture this – a blue Subaru Impreza flying through the air. The driver lands and is immediately hard on the gas, the car dancing around on the gravel roads on the absolute edge of grip. Maximum commitment, all of the time. For so many people, this is the defining image of the World Rally Championship and one that today’s WRC promoters would dream of replicating. The history books will tell you that Colin Mcrae was not the most successful driver in the WRC. He didn’t win as many World Championships as Tommi Makkinen, as many rallies as Sebastian Loeb or had the techincal brilliance of Carlos Sainz. But, he was unquestionably the most iconic driver of his generation. There was something about Colin that just excited fans. He was always driving on the limit and often went over it to the utter frustration of his co-drivers and team bosses. Colin had an extraordinary talent, speed and commitment through the narrow slippery roads. The Colin McRae rally video game is still one the most successful car games in history with all of us spending hours in our living room pretending we are just like him. His tragic death in a helicopter accident was a real shame and a sad end to a life lived on the limit.
JYS is one of the sport’s true icons in more ways than one. His abilities and achievements in the car are often overshadowed by the work he’s done outside the car in what has been a very busy life. Winning three Formula 1 World Championships is something incredible but Jackie called it quits on a career when he still had the speed and ability to keep winning. The 1970s were a very dangerous time with drivers being injured and killed far too often. Jackie worked incredibly hard to improve driver’s safety as well as for the mechanics and people in the pit lane. As an ambassador for the sport and brands, Jackie is someone very special. Friendly with the Beetles, royal families and most CEO’s world over, I don’t know anybody as skilled at looking after their brand image. The fact that he’s been an ambassador for certain companies for over 40 years is a testament to that. Overcoming dyslexia, Jackie went on to head the BRDC and manage the tough British Grand Prix negotiations with Bernie Ecclestone for a number of years. If all that isn’t enough, in 1997 he started his own Formula 1 team which secured a podium in its first season and won a race in its third year of racing before he sold out to Ford. An incredible man who’s led a very busy life!
In every generation, there’s a talent that comes along who is just that little bit ahead of the others. There’s a driver with an ability to make a car do things that others can only dream of. Versatility and a passion to drive just about everything on wheels pushes them. Jim Clark was that driver of the 1960s. A double World Champion in Formula 1, Clark was undoubtedly the gold standard for his peers that included top talents like Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and John Surtees. What was incredible about Clark was that when he was not racing in F1, he was also racing in F2, Lotus Cortinas and in America. To highlight this, in 1965 Jimmy won the Formula 1 World Championship and the Indianapolis 500 as well as the Tasman Cup, the French F2 Championship and plenty of saloon and sportscar races! Clark’s death in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim in 1968 rocked the motorsport world, with drivers all around the planet left with the feeling of, ‘If this could happen to Jimmy, then the rest of us have very little chance’. When Ayrton Senna says that Jimmy Clark was one of his heroes, that’s something very special indeed.
There’s no question about the fact that Lewis Hamilton is the most iconic driver of our generation today. The first black man to drive at the top level of our sport, he has built up a massive fan base around the world. Lewis has that Mansell element of drama on track but with a James Hunt style of controversy off it. He is a total character with an amazing god-given talent to drive race cars very fast. I don’t think there has ever been a driver with better ability on the brakes in Formula 1 and his attacking nature means that when he’s behind someone in a race, you’re always waiting for something to happen. Already a four-time world champion Lewis has matured hugely in the last few years and is mentally a much tougher character than he was in his Mclaren days. This makes him a formidable opponent and one that everyone else on the grid will be worried about for many more years to come.
The name is just cool isn’t it? A racing legend on both sides of the Atlantic, Mario is perhaps the most versatile driver in the history of our sport. In a life that started in Italy and took him to America, Mario became the 1978 Formula 1 World Champion, is a 4 time Indycar Champion, winner of the Indy 500, a winner of the Daytona 500 and winner of the daunting Pikes Peak Hill Climb amongst many others! After winning the Indy 500 in the 1960s, Mario was still a front runner in Indycar racing three decades later, a remarkable feat considering the speed and danger involved with oval racing. Any man who can take pole position for his first ever Grand Prix is special but after a great career in America, perhaps Mario’s most iconic moment came in his beloved Italy when he took pole position for the 1982 Grand Prix in Monza driving a Ferrari during a brief F1 return as a substitute for Didier Pironi. An absolute legend who still loves his motor racing and has built up a massive fan base all over the world.
Let’s forget the final few years at Mercedes for a moment and think about Michael Schumacher’s career in Formula 1 from 1991 until 2006. In that time, there was no bigger global superstar in our sport. There was nowhere in the world that he didn’t have a massive legion of fans. There was nowhere in the world where people didn’t recognise him as the gold standard of his generation. In my opinion, the dominant Ferrari years were one thing, but Michael’s extraordinary talent was clearly evident from the Group C days in Sportscars and in the mid 1990s he was simply awesome in cars that sometimes weren’t. His pole position laps in the 1996 lemon of a Ferrari were as amazing as his victory from 16th place on the grid at Spa in 1995. Michael raised the bar so high in terms of work ethic and fitness that it shocked everyone in F1. I mean, who else thought of having a mobile gym travel to the test sessions with them so they could train for hours at the end of a hard day of testing! His ability to motivate a team and the work he did with Ferrari to become F1’s dream team in the early 2000s is something that teams and drivers will be trying to emulate for years to come. More race victories, pole positions and world championships than anyone else in history – the records speak for themselves.
To the modern Formula 1 fan, Niki Lauda is the inspiration to the film Rush and his story back from near death in 1976 is well documented. But first and foremost, he was the best driver of his generation. Incredibly intelligent, shrewd and a very hard taskmaster, Lauda went to the political hotbed of Ferrari and worked hard to transform them into world champions again in 1975 and 1977. He stood up to the ‘Old Man’ when nobody else would and pushed the team to back him when he felt he needed it. When he didn’t feel that backing, he promptly quit but only after winning a second title to remind them of what they’ll miss. In 1979, Lauda felt he needed a break and walked away from F1 to start his airline. When Mclaren came calling in 1982, he made what seemed like an outrageous salary demand but knew that their backers Marlboro would stump up to have him back in F1. With a third world title in the bag, he knew that his time was up when Alain Prost started to beat him for speed in the same car and quit for the final time. On his own terms.
The new Mr. Le Mans is one of the lesser known icons of our sport but once you get to know him, you get the feeling that he may actually like that! TK is a fantastic guy and a very good racing driver who never got a real shot in Formula 1. He was smart enough to recognise that if he stopped chasing the dream and looked at a different branch of the sport, he could be in a very good position. Tom has become a living legend of sportscar racing and is today the most successful driver in the history of the Le Mans 24 hour race. The fact that he can go around the world relatively anonymously when compared to Lewis or Fernando is a sign of Formula 1’s strength over anything else, but in terms of on-track achievement, he’s right up there. I’ve gotten to know Tom and some of his team-mates in recent years and they all talk about how he really was a team player. This is something invaluable in sportscar racing where you have to be willing to sacrifice track time and your optimum car setup to help your team-mates. His ability to do that and yet be incredibly fast, consistent and mistake-free paid huge dividends on track and in the history books. Tom has retired from driving but he still loves the sport and even today spends his time going to Formula 1 and sportscar races as a steward or an advisor to Audi.