Karun Chandhok’s Motorsport Icons Part 3
Colin Chapman excelled in the era of revolution and innovation. Engineers were able to think more laterally and come up with ideas that could transform the car entirely. This was an art but perhaps what’s even trickier is to be able to be creative and show your genius within the confines of ever tightening regulations. This is something that Adrian Newey has done on a regular basis since the late 1980s. Primarily an aerodynamicist, Adrian first came to be noticed with the beautiful Leyton House car from 1990 before being recruited to Williams. Working alongside Patrick Head and Paddy Lowe, he showed his power as an aerodynamicist with the dominant cars from 1991 until 1997 when Williams was undoubtedly the top team of the time. Moving to Mclaren, he instantly had an impact with his cars delivering World Championships for Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999. Adrian’s a bit of a free spirit who loves his racing but also loves his freedom. Red Bull Racing gave him the chance to create a technical structure around him in a way that he wanted but also allowed him the freedom to live life a bit, racing in historics at Goodwood and Le Mans amongst others. A big change to the rules in 2009 allowed creative guys to work their magic once again and RBR came to the fore. Newey built up a team of technical people that he knew, liked and trusted and their Newey-led creations delivered the next four titles in a row.
Think of Formula 1 personalities outside the car and you can’t help but start with the boss. For over 30 years now Bernie Ecclestone has been the man to put Formula 1 on the map and make it the largest watched championship annually by a global TV audience. He has plenty of haters and is certainly no angel. He’s a hard businessman who doesn’t appear to give much away for free, but why should he? He’s running a business and needs to make money for the business to survive. In the 1980s, Bernie was a successful team boss, winning multiple World Championships with Brabham. He’s a racer at heart but recognized that there was a huge untapped value to the sport. Towards the end of the 1980s, Bernie stepped away from being a team owner and focused his time and efforts on the commercial rights of Formula 1. From television rights to hosting fees, travel to merchandising, magazines to support racing series, Bernie has built an empire in a way that few other people in the history of sport have done. On the whole, the people within the paddock and the fans of the sport have a lot more to thank him for than to be grumbling about.
Motorsport is perhaps the only sport apart from sailing where the end result of the competition relies so heavily on technology. However, for that technology to work, you need people with creativity and a vision. As such, Colin Chapman may well be the most iconic technical brain in the history of the sport. I can’t think of anyone else who was revered by drivers, feared by rivals, and a joy and a terror to work for in equal measure. Coming up with race cars that won in Formula 1 and Indianapolis plus iconic saloon racing cars like the Cortina or road cars like the Elan, were all part of Colin’s life. He was the first to understand the benefit of the chassis and engine supplier working closely together, the first to understand the benefit of aerodynamics, the first to really push sponsors for a commercial sponsorship package resulting eventually in those iconic black and gold JPS Lotus cars. His cars were very fast yet fragile which meant that drivers like Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda shied away from them while icons like Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti brought World Championship glory. A truly revolutionary and innovative thinker.
The company that Enzo built may well be known today for their line of road cars, but Enzo was a racer at heart. The road car company was just something to help keep the race team going but in reality, the most important thing to Enzo was that his beloved red cars were winning races. Enzo wanted his cars to win at everything: F1, Le Mans, Daytona and the Mille Miglia. He loved engines and no matter what the chassis did, the engines had to be the best. The ‘Old Man’ was a hard character to work with and the team was perpetually dealing with internal politics and drama. He believed that it was a privilege to work for Ferrari and therefore paid his people less than others. He knew the brand’s value even back in the 1970s and 1980s and wasn’t shy to flex his muscles. Today Ferrari is the most iconic race team in the world and perhaps the most iconic car company in the world, and it all started thanks to one man.
Frank Williams / Patrick Head
I think it’s impossible to really separate the iconic status of Frank Williams and Patrick Head from each other. Neither would have achieved the success they had without the other since 1979 and are two of my all-time heroes. Frank was ducking and diving, trying to keep the F1 dream alive by running his operation from a phone booth and living on other people’s sofas for free. He somehow convinced Patrick, who at the time had very little race car engineering background, to join him. Patrick is a tough, nononsense character who just got on with the job and came up with the beautiful FW07 for 1979. This gave the team their first race wins and the following season, Alan Jones delivered their first World Championship cementing Williams Grand Prix Engineering’s future in Formula 1. In 1986, Frank’s horrific car crash left him a quadraplegic. Lesser people wouldn’t have survived but with Patrick’s support, the team not only survived but went on to win many more races and World Championships. Frank today is the world’s longest surviving quadraplegic who still travels to races in more of a guiding role, rather than a hands-on one. Patrick retired a few years ago but still pops in to keep an eye on things as Williams diversified from being a race team to an engineering company providing services to car manufacturers, wind energy companies, London busses and many others. The team has come a long way since that phone booth!
Very few people have worn so many hats and been at the very top of their business as Jean Todt has. Today, he may be known as the President of the FIA, the world’s governing body for the sport. In his past lives, he was a World Rally Champion navigator, he masterminded Peugeot’s championship success in the WRC and then at Le Mans, before being head hunted by Ferrari to bring them back from the doldrums to the very top of the sport. With the rebuilding of the sport’s most iconic team, Todt cemented his reputation as one of the greatest team bosses of all time. Nobody is under more pressure than the boss of Ferrari. The Italian management, media and fans expect, even demand success. Jean went through a process of building the team up piece by piece, hiring key people like Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne, Stefano Domenicali, Nigel Stepney, James Allison and of course Michael Schumacher. He had a key ally in that process in Luca di Montezemolo who gave him the autonomy and power to do what he saw best and Todt delivered. His team order calls with Barrichello didn’t win him any fans but he was there to do a job and deliver Ferrari its championship success. From 1999 until 2008, the team won a drivers or constructors (or both) championship an incredible 8 out of 10 years underlining the job he started out in 1993.
Keith Duckworth / Mike Costin
It’s impossible to think of the giants of motorsport without mentioning Cosworth. The company started by Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin are absolutely iconic as an engine supplier in the sport. In the same vein as Patrick Head and Frank Williams, it’s impossible to separate the Cosworth founders. The ‘idealist and the realist’, Duckworth was a hard as nails Brit with a streak of genius, matched by Costin’s good logic and feet on the ground sense. After starting the company in 1958 building engines, the cornerstone of their development came in 1967. With the “best £100,000 Ford ever spent in the sport”, they developed the 3.0L DFV engine originally for Lotus that changed the sport forever. The DFV, in subsequent development guises, went on to dominate the sport for 15 years and clinched 155 race wins during that time. More importantly, privateer teams were able to buy engines ‘off the shelf’ and go racing for the first time ever. True icons.
For over 40 years, Penske Racing cars have been at the front of the American racing scene, winning races and championships at an impressive rate. ‘Captain Roger’ has been steering that ship from the front, putting in place the right engineers, drivers, sponsors and engine partners to deliver an amazing rate of success. His fan following within the sport is colossal and the man himself still has such a passion for the sport. Roger is fiercely loyal to his drivers and if you reward that loyalty with on track success, you will be a Penske driver for life. Guys like Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves have all felt the benefit of that loyalty and today proudly call themselves Indianapolis 500 winners because of it. Putting your ego aside and knowing when you’ve been beaten is a rarity in this sport. However I remember in 1995, a year after their PC23 dominated at Indy, the PC24 wasn’t competitive and Roger wasn’t shy about borrowing a Reynard from another team for the drivers to try! Juan Pablo Montoya’s win at Indy last year continued to show that Penske is still the Gold standard for all American race teams to be.
Starting off as a mechanic, Ron was an extremely sharp businessman with a real eye for detail. He got himself into a position where he was running a successful Formula 2 team, before convincing the bosses at Marlboro to give him control of the McLaren Formula 1 team in 1980. A sharp businessman with a huge ambition and drive to win, Ron was brilliant with his key technical chiefs at the time John Barnard, Gordon Murray and Steve Nichols and gave them all the tools they needed to succeed. Whether it was backing the move to carbonfibre monocoques, new tooling in the factory, he said yes and would find the money somehow. Ron transformed the image of a professional Formula 1 team and through the 1980s and 1990s, he was brilliant at dealing with long term partners like Marlboro, Shell, Honda, Tag, Boss, Mercedes and West. Signing the best drivers and managing them was something Ron took pride in with World Champions like Lauda, Prost, Senna, Hakkinen, Hamilton, Raikkonnen, Alonso and Button driving his cars. Ron also signed off on the McLaren F1 Supercar project that came out in 1993 and adorned many a teenager’s wall before going on to remarkably win Le Mans.
Motorsport teams in the modern era are no longer a six man band. Ross Brawn’s legacy perhaps will be that he understood this better than anyone. He put the right person in the right department and gave them the freedom to work to the best of their ability. He realised that while in a past life, he personally needed to roll up his sleeves to design, fabricate, strategise and be a race engineer, in a modern team he needed to be a visionary and manage people. Ross will best be known for all the years at Ferrari where he headed the technical team and delivered a huge amount of success for the Scuderia and Schumacher. Prior to that he was a big part of the early Williams story and then was a key engineer for Jaguar’s successful efforts at Le Mans with the iconic ‘Silk Cut’ Group C cars. Moving to Benetton, Ross worked with Pat Symonds and Rory Byrne to create a strong unit that allowed the talents of Schumacher to come to the fore winning two World Championships. When Jean Todt hired Michael as part of his Ferrari rehabilitation, Michael knew he needed Ross to bring about some organization to the chaos at Maranello. At Honda, Ross was rebuilding the structure at its base in Brackley before they pulled the plug and his biggest challenge yet was keeping the rebranded Brawn GP team going for 2009, let alone winning the World Championship and selling out to Mercedes. There are very few people in this sport who don’t have a word of admiration for Ross, and that’s something very rare indeed.