Last night I got an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. The chance to attend the FOTA fan forum at the WilliamsF1 HQ in Grove, Oxfordshire and for those that can’t be bothered to read to the end it was a fantastic evening.
For the uninitiated FOTA is the Formula One Teams’ Association and represents the interests of most of the current grand prix teams. It used to represent all of them until Ferrari and Red Bull left, presumably as it was more in their interests to be out than in but that’s another story.
The forum was held at the WilliamsF1 Conference Centre, somewhere I have been a number of times before but it is always great to go back to, and the idea is to bring the people closer to those that are running and in the sport. Taking place in various location each year it gives fans an opportunity to ask questions from various F1 individuals and get some real debate going. Last night we were treated to a line up of current team principals and F1 legends.
On arrival we were encouraged to join a snaking line at the end of which was current WilliamsF1 hero Pastor Maldonado who was patiently signing autographs and having his photograph taken. You can see the resulting awkward encounter above! I refrained from saying anything controversial like “pull your finger out matey, you have cost us 25 points already this season” but I would image that Frank was already said something similar!
Then it was into the Ayrton Senna room for the main event. There was a short introduction by Sir Frank Williams who was on good form. As an aside I was amused to note that despite Williams having been wheelchair bound since 1986 they hadn’t installed a ramp up to the stage when the conference centre was built ten years ago. This meant that to reach there he had to be lifted up, chair and all, by two minders! Williams spoke with great affection for Maldonado and said what a great racer he is.
There was then a short interview of Maldonado by host Lee McKenzie where his coming together with Lewis Hamilton was discussed. Rather than going over what happened there he chose to focus on the next race at Silverstone.
The forum section of the event was split into two with the first half being three current team principals and the second half three “legends”.
Representing the team principals were Bob Fearnley of Sahara Force India, Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren and Ross Brawn from Mercedes. The questions were interesting and informative and are covered in much better detail elsewhere on the web so I won’t go back over that but what I found interesting was the interplay between the three of them. Clearly they have all been together on the F1 circuit for quite some time and they genuinely seemed to get on with one another.
There was one question that was primarily about the smaller teams acting as nurseries for drivers waiting to be picked up by the bigger teams. For example, it has long been considered that Paul di Resta was placed at Force India to gain experience before being picked up by Mercedes. Whitmarsh was quick to pick up on this and quipped to Brawn “so Ross, which one of your drivers are you going to drop!” To his credit Brawn took this head on and simply stated that “Nico is on a reasonably long term contract and we will decide what to do with Michael in the summer” which I thought was brutally honest.
Finally it was the turn of the legends: Williams own Patrick Head and former drivers Derek Warwick and John Watson and all were on sparkling form. It was interesting to compare the F1 of today with when these three were active. One questioner asked about the pressure on current drivers with all the requirements for media and sponsor duties. To this Watson had an interesting take stating that had that been the case when James Hunt was driving he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to lay quite some many “young ladies”!
There were more poignant moments such as when the subject of how drivers cope with having to go out and drive after a tragedy with Warwick giving a moving and honest account of the hours after the accident of his then team mate Martin Donnelly and the death of Gilles Villeneuve. He also stated how it is difficult for family members to understand how it was necessary to compartmentalise such things in order to be able to continue.
And then it was over and all that was left was the WilliamsF1 gift shop! They did a roaring trade in gear ratios, of which they seemed to have an endless supply. It transpired that none of these had ever been on the car at all, if they had the price would no doubt have been greater than the £5 being asked. We were told that they were simply massed produced and now surplus to requirements. I stuck to a team hat.
All in all it was a fantastic evening and I thank FOTA for organising and getting such stellar line-up.
For those that are interested there are a number of photos from the event here. Note how much interest the water provides to Whitmarsh and Head who clearly seem to be checking it’s vintage!
"Nearly always wet, always windy" – Patrick Head on Silverstone. "I don't have any particular affection for it" #fotaforum
— Neil Thompson (@NeilThompson) July 3, 2012