If there is one thing more compelling that actually watching the cars in action, it is the business of charting the history of the drivers and individual cars concerned throughout their career. When I was a young journalist on Motoring News back in the 1970s, detailed data was literally meat and drink to all the staff.
I’ll give you an example; when one or more of us at Motoring News were sent to cover a round of the prestigious European F2 championship it was a matter of honour that we rigorously recorded the chassis numbers of the individual competing cars. Autosport, our great rivals at the time, then began recording engine numbers. And so all of us at Motoring News counter-attacked by printing a list of the top gears being used by the fastest cars. And supplementing those with engine rev limits in third, fourth and fifth at the end of free practice. Ouch! I’ve never quite worked out what the precise set of circumstances triggered what I can only describe as post-teenage screams for help. But they were quite scary in their intensity.
Moving slightly away from viscosity grades used in Cosworth BDA F2 engines (I’m joking, here, but only just) I think that the only other thing than data that was guaranteed to put a smile on our innocent faces in the editorial offices was the smell of fresh Castrol R – which, as I recall, pre-dated Red Bull in the F1 paddock by more than two decades.
Of course, detailed data could be used as a powerful weapon in the wrong hands. For example, I remember at Suzuka, one year, tricking Ayrton into contributing a foreword for the AUTOCOURSE annual. It took a bit of managing, but he quickly twigged that I had tricked him: I had rated him 10th in the annual top ten drivers! He let me sweat it out all the way to Imola 1994 where the fates played out and that was all he knew. But unfortunately Ayrton and I never got around repairing the breach.
On reflection, a relationship with Senna made one properly think before talking to this dynamic personality. Of course, an anger management course would have been an ideal antidote for allowing the Brazilian to leave his right foot in my left ear for unspecified periods of time. The expression ‘tough love’ took on a completely fresh dimension with Ayrton.
And Ayrton of course should own the final word on the topic of statistics. Ayrton won three World Championships, but only after he had overtaken the records of Brabham, Stewart, Lauda and Piquet. And sure, Niki marked the going rate for an emergent F1 star, but it was Ayrton who was the first driver to breach the million bucks per race line in 1994.