Parc Fermé

Speeding tire tracks on the asphalt

My thoughts on my season as a fan…….

So, before I begin may I just get this out the way from the off.

The Formula One season this year, like the last few seasons was…well…pretty poor entertainment if I am being truthful. If you are a regular reader of any of my columns or features, you will know that as a 40 year Formula One and racing fan in general, that sentence causes me a lot of pain. Yes folks, I’m sorry to dampen your bonfire with bodily liquid, but F1 is just a processional damp squid in its current form. It’s boring. Let us hope the regulation changes next

season change all that. I live in hope.

Then we have what was essentially the talk of the season. Hamilton and Rosberg. As I type that sentence I am shaking my head.

I have sat there and seen on social media some fans of Hamilton and Rosberg swap insults and abuse. Most of them have not got an absolute clue what they are talking about, but it is not even worth trying to intervene or offer any kind of intelligent insight into the shenanigans this season because….well….some of these fans are morons and it just would be a big waste of time for any true racing fan to even get involved. Basically the fans I am referring to who just want to enter into some kind of “Jeremy Kyle” style rant need to get a grip of themselves. This is racing….if you don’t understand the basics of that, then I feel sorry for you. If you feel you are one of those fans who I am talking about then please go and sit down, do some reading and even educate yourself in motor racing. Once you have reached any decent level of “being a fan” you may return to talk with the adults.

The few pleasures and highlights of my season watching F1 were Pascal Wehrlein, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen and before any bright sparks start throwing “Red Bull fan” assumptions in my direction, I can assure you I am certainly not. Verstappen, in my eyes is one of the most exciting, if not THEE most exciting thing to happen to F1 in the last 10 years. Formula One needs Max Verstappen.

Moving swiftly on. Where did my enjoyment come from? Where was the passion? What made my skin tingle in this gut busting, goosebumping and adrenaline fuelled world of motor racing?

I can’t start off any thoughts without first being extremely patriotic and saying a massive congratulations to a British world champion in Jonathan Rea who took back-to-back World Superbike titles with his nine race wins and only being off the podium three times. An immaculate defence of his title. Take a bow Mr. Rea, take a bow.

This brings me nicely on to another British rider, but this time in the world of MotoGP.

Mr Cal Crutchlow.

Now, this may have passed non-two wheeled by, but he is the first British rider to win a premier class Grand Prix race since the late, great Barry Sheene. Not only did he achieve this feat in the Czech Republic, he went and repeated it in Australia to add to the two second places he achieved in Germany and at his home GP in Great Britain. He finished 7th in the World Championship, he finished ahead of two “factory” riders in the shape of Iannone and Aleix Espargaro. Add to this that leading up to the German Grand Prix, he had retired four times and was nowhere to be seen in the top half of the points. Whether the birth of his child had anything to do with his change in form is subject to speculation, but my what a fantastic performance for the remainder of the season. Well done Cal, you did us proud.

British Superbikes – If you don’t follow British Superbikes you should. If you have no idea what the series is like. Find out. In 2016 it delivered, massively delivered. Entertainment wise it was on par with any racing series you will see on the planet, it delivered (take note Formula One) drama on the track, not off it.

The return to the championship of Leon Haslam, he eased himself back in after Laverty and Hickman won the first two races of the season, then the season bubbled and the ingredients were added and it was from here that the “Michelin Star” entertainment was delivered right up to the last race of the showdown as Shakey Byrne and Haslam went head-to-head. Outstanding entertainment.

We move from two wheels to four wheels.

The three series that gave me the most pleasure this season were (in no particular order), the British Touring Car Championship, World Endurance Championship and World Rallycross.

Again Formula One, please take note of above championships, they p**sed all over you for entertainment and value this season……again.

In BTCC it was just an epic battle at the top, Shedden, Tordoff, Jackson, Turkington, Collard and Neal and interesting to see how the Subaru’s developed over the season. On a personal level I was so chuffed to see one of my favourite racing drivers Rob Austin battling with big names, but for me it was the emergence of Michael Epps and Jake Hill who really impressed me this season, both of them fantastic racers, great craft and thoroughly nice blokes. Watch out for them both in the future, brilliant racing drivers.

My endurance season kicked off with that EPIC……and I use that word in all its meaning…..Corvette battle at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. The entire race itself was just brilliant, but that radio message from the team for both drivers, “You’re free to race, keep it clean” – Formula One, another note you need to take. That radio message itself made my skin bubble, I sat forward on my chair like an excited child on Christmas Eve and I found myself shouting at the television “Yes! Yes! Now that’s a radio message. Come On!!” – Again, I’m not even a Corvette fan, but my god as a racing fan that radio message was music to my ears. Those Corvettes certainly listened and OH MY GOD!!!! – What a finish to the race. Superb.

I move to Le Mans, again regular readers of any of my ramblings will know that I regard the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the greatest race in the world. Little did we know that this would be Mark Webber’s last Le Mans. As always the great race did not let its fans down. I was on live comms for The Pit Crew Online along with my band of fellow merry men and we enjoyed every single second of the race. What made it so special was interacting with the teams, drivers and some sponsors through the race itself. Then came the heartbreaking moment for Toyota. I watched opened mouth as the car came to a halt. I really felt for the team and its fans, the most emotional end to a race I have seen in a long time, if not ever. That hurt, that really hurt. As a great driver once said “To win Le Mans, first you have to finish.” – heartbreaking but oh so true.

For me, the most entertaining series of the entire year was World Rallycross. I can’t put into words how exciting it was. There was more action in one lap at any RX event than there was in an entire season of…….well you know what I was going to say (take note F1).

I had the absolute pleasure of attending RX Lydden and it was one of the most fantastic experiences of my racing life. Standing inches away from Ken Block as he spoke to his mechanic, the Ford Focus RS up on jacks. I interviewed Timmy Hansen, spoke to Niclas Gronholm, I even got my picture taken with him and his dad, two-time WRC champion Marcus. I bumped into Andrew Jordan (of BTCC fame), had a bit of a chat and wandered off. The big one was yet to come, yes… interview on top of the Monster Energy tower with Petter Solberg. The man is an absolute gentleman. Oh….I forgot….I even got involved (accidentally) in the scrutineering of cars before they went on track.

The action on track was mind-blowing, the turn-around in races is phenomenal and the access is unbelievable. The entire season was just breathtaking from start to finish and then there was the overtake of the century in any racing series. Yes THAT overtake, around the outside by Kevin Eriksson at Estering. It was audacious. It was spectacular. In fact the commentator on the race summed it up perfectly. “Outrageous!” If you haven’t seen it then I suggest you go on You Tube, it will just blow your mind!

It is on this note I have to say thank you for the memories to Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and to a certain extent in Formula One, Jenson Button. That said, with the news that Button, Webber and a certain Mr. Coulthard are allegedly setting up their own rallycross team, I am full of excitement. Welcome to the right side of racing.

That, ladies and gentleman, was an eventful year of racing. Some big pluses for me. My interviews took a huge turn as I got to interview the likes of Mario Andretti, Zak Brown and Bradley Smith. Next year is going to be even better.

But, Formula One, please try to keep up because you are being left behind and as my first love of motor racing I really don’t want you to be ridiculed as much as you are now. It’s time to fix up and look sharp because there are racing series out there that on action, entertainment and value are making you look silly.

Oh and those Hamilton and Rosberg fans I referred to earlier. Just grow up and have a word with yourselves.

Neil Simmons


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