Red Flag to a Bull


After a largely two-horse race in Formula 1 this season, we’re certainly witnessing an exciting climax. The final showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will take place in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

There were moments during the recent Brazilian Grand Prix in São Paulo when the endless rain stoppages and safety car appearances meant Formula 1 looked in danger of letting down the main reason for its very existence – to thrill and excite the millions of fans around the world, especially those who pay to watch from the grandstands at the circuits.

Of course, driver safety is of paramount importance. But the technological improvements in these areas have advanced so much over the last 20-30 years that serious driver injuries and fatalities are, thankfully, incredibly rare.

Crucially, the spins, swerves, skids and crashes are all part of the overall entertainment package that keeps F1 followers glued to their seats and TV screens.

Car beauty parades and timing stats may be enough for some ardent petrolheads, but the thrills and spills of on-track incidents are what the fans crave.


There have been some great drives in the rain in the past, but two wet weather masters – sadly no longer with us – stand out for me.

In 1976 in Fuji, conditions were so bad that the final race of the season was almost called off. Niki Lauda, the championship leader by three points going into the race, had narrowly escaped death earlier in the season in a horrific crash at Nürburgring.

Nobody was surprised when the horrendous conditions moved Lauda to voluntarily retire from the race midfield. This left the door open for James Hunt, who fought his way through the field in rain and fog to gain third place and snatch the World Championship with true British resolve, grit and determination.


In 1993 at the European Grand Prix, in the quagmire that was Donington Park, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the legendary Hunt. In addition to his TV commentary duties, he was our hospitality guest that day. Sadly, this turned out to be one of the last races he attended.

Trudging knee-deep in mud was the downside that day, but on the track Brazilian genius Ayrton Senna worked his magic from the start and gave the rain-soaked crowd a wet weather masterclass to savour.

Senna had already driven brilliantly in the rain in his maiden F1 victory in Estoril in 1985, but this display was even better – and arguably the greatest lap ever.

After slipping back a place to fifth after the start, he unbelievably overtook four drivers to lead after just the first lap, passing world champions including Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher. Suffice to say, Senna went on to win the race in style.


F1 drivers get paid colossal sums of money, which you could argue outweighs the risk they take every time they climb into the cockpit of a missile on four wheels.

But these superhuman, super-fit ‘pilots’ are born to race and live on the edge. As demonstrated in Brazil, they were disappointed and frustrated when the race director stopped them driving. Thankfully, they avoided a washout and a proper race was eventually able to take place – and what a race!

It was like a red rag to a bull once the drivers got the bit between their teeth on the final restart. And for Max Verstappen, a red flag to a RED bull. With just sixteen laps to go he realised he couldn’t get the speed he wanted, and took the brave but risky decision to pit and change tyres.

In the next 25 minutes he drove like a raging bull, overtaking no less than thirteen cars to steal third place from Mexican driver Sergio Perez – showing him who Speedy Gonzalez was!


The patient, loyal crowd who stayed on through the rain – who had earlier lauded and bid farewell to their nation’s own Felipe Massa retiring in his last home Grand Prix – were now in raptures at the sight of the Flying Dutchman.

This young, fearless driver is surely a world champion in the making. As his mother and father Jos watched proudly, I had the feeling the thrills and spills of the future were in safe hands.


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