By Ann Bradshaw, England
Autosport-Atlas Special Columnist
In this week's column, Ann Bradshaw analyses the risks of tennis and wonders how Juan Pablo Montoya managed to injure himself. She also recalls the days when sex was safer than F1 and looks back at one very hot race
I remember the days when motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe.
Then motor racing became safe and sex became dangerous with the onset of aids. Move on further and in 1994 motor racing became dangerous again and sex became safe again as we were reminded that there were these things that at school we called French Letters but in the grown up world were known as condoms.
I even remember at a Grand Prix in Adelaide being given a tee shirt that was aimed to promote safe sex. This shirt had a small pocket which contained the condom and a slogan that read 'Lay Down Some Rubber Big Boy'. We are now in 2005 and motor racing is safe again, sex is dangerous again but surprise, surprise tennis is now also dangerous.
If you doubt my words here just look at what is happening at McLaren. They came into this season full of promise - they were the ones to beat Ferrari. They had a miserable Australian race with Ron Dennis openly critical on TV of the performance of his new superstar, Juan Pablo Montoya. Things started to look up in Malaysia and then the blow came - the Colombian fractured his shoulder thanks to playing tennis. Now don't get me wrong, I know tennis is a tough game and if you hit the ground on a hard surface court there is nothing to give, but you have to show amazing commitment to the sport to do this.
When did we last hear that the likes of Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Tim Henman, etc. suffered such an injury? I know and like Juan Pablo but the thought that he did this playing a game that used to be synonymous with lazy sunny days when you hit a soft ball with a cat gut racket around on a piece of grass, leaves me a little perplexed. All I can say is if he shows this much commitment to hitting a ball, then Ron should look back to Melbourne and wonder where the commitment was there.
On top of all this, Ron, before the Bahrain race, seemed to have another problem. Reminiscent of 1995 when he tried to shoe horn Nigel Mansell into the McLaren, he had a car that is too small to fit his long standing reserve driver, Alexander Wurz, and the only other option was to put in a man who had not raced an F1 car since 2002.
I am sure driving an F1 car is like riding a bicycle, once you learn you never forget, but things in both qualifying and racing had moved on since then so it was always going to be interesting to see how Pedro de la Rosa coped. I am delighted to report that the likeable Spaniard did well, and I am sure that within a few races he could be very competitive, especially as he outqualified Kimi Raikkonen. He seemed a bit tentative when trying to pass the opposition, but reminded me of dog after a bone. If at first you don't succeed just keep on worrying whatever is in your way as you will eventually get what you are after.
Add to this the fact that Wurz went extremely well on Friday in free practice, and I can see that Ron could be spoilt for choice as to who to put in his cars. To me the most amusing comment about the whole Juan Pablo affair, which seemed to have the paddock buzzing on the subject of exactly how he came a cropper, was from Ron, who said the biggest incentive for his drivers not to do silly things whatever they were doing was the fact if they didn't race they didn't get paid. With Juan Pablo and his wife, Connie, expecting their first baby very soon I am certain he will be needing all the money he can earn to pay for the cost of bringing up a son who may just have an expensive taste in toys.
Again for this race and Malaysia I was watching from the comfort of a sitting room in the UK. While it was me and my dog again for Bahrain, for Malaysia it was a much more interesting group of friends who included the eight month old twin daughters of Takuma Sato's race engineer, Jock Clear. I doubt that when Jock is at home, which is not very often at the moment, he is too strict with the girls who are the apple of daddy's eye. However, it was quite amusing to listen to him in Malaysia talking to his driver a bit like a father would. In all the years I have been in the sport I have never heard an engineer talk his driver off the grid and through the first corner. However, this is exactly what Jock did telling the Japanese who was where.
While the ITV commentator, Martin Brundle, was quite amazed at such an action, it did seem to work as Takuma got through safely and it was only mechanical gremlins that sidelined him. I did think this somewhat unorthodox, but we have been talking for years about how a remote control full scale Grand Prix car cannot be far away, so I suppose this is a remote control full scale Grand Prix driver!
Bahrain is the first Middle East country to hold an F1 race and after this weekend has another statistic to boast about. With an ambient temperature of 42÷C it was the hottest ever Grand Prix. While I am not disputing this fact, it does bring to mind another very hot race, the first one in Phoenix, Arizona in 1989. Like Bahrain, Phoenix is very close to the desert and so the hot sun was literally beating down on the cars and the people as it was held on the first weekend in June. Sadly the track and facilities were nothing like those in Bahrain.
The track was described by one journalist in Autocourse as "simply another stultifyingly symmetrical street circuit charting an anonymous path between featureless concrete barriers topped with mesh catch-fencing" and I remember the WilliamsF1 'motorhome' was a small caravan that would usually be described as a two-person tourer. Thankfully in those days there was no limit on engine use, otherwise there would have been a very full back of the grid at the next race in Canada. Also in those days only 26 cars from the 39 entries were allowed to start the race, with pre-qualifying being used to whittle the numbers down.
Despite such a bland circuit, the conditions proved much too much for man and machine. Only six cars were still running at the finish - with just three of them covering the full 75 laps. If my memory serves me right many retirements were due to the conditions with overheating being a familiar reason. However, for Alessandro Nannini the reason for him parking his Benetton after ten laps was simply 'driver unfit'. Not sure how the Italian would have coped in Bahrain. Phoenix was a strange place with the usual American quirkiness I have come to expect. Two examples are, I had to give Johnny Herbert a lift from the airport to the hotel as he was too young to hire a car in the US, and one of the reasons we were given for a desperately small crowd was the Ostrich race up the road, which had enticed the locals in their tens of thousands!
While my mates in F1 have been rushing round the world, I have been here in the UK waiting for the start of my Formula BMW UK Championship season and also working on the new A1 Grand Prix Series. In our BMW series, we have had a similar problem to McLaren with one of our youngsters suffering a broken ankle from playing what should be a less dangerous sport. This young lad is in fact no other than the son of the BAR Team Manger, Ron Meadows.
Michael, his son, is 17 and very quick, even earning himself a BMW Scholarship in a shootout with other young hopefuls in Valencia last year. However, it was on the rugby field when his father was in Malaysia that he broke this ankle while tackling the opposition. It was an upset Ron who sent me an e-mail to give me the bad news, and I am sure after what has happened to his F1 team in the first three races he could have done without this happening to Michael. As I said above, I remember a time when motor racing was dangerous.
The A1 Grand Prix series is going from strength to strength and with less than six months until the first race here in the UK there are some very interesting people involved. We have, as expected, a group of former Grand Prix drivers - John Surtees, Alan Jones, Alex Yoong, Jan Lammers - involved, but now we have one of the world's top footballers, Ronaldo. It was at a recent launch in Mexico it was announced he had bought the seat for Brazil. This was one of Sheikh Maktoum's dream that people not usually associated with motor racing would find the idea of a World Cup of Motorsport exciting, and here we have a member of the Brazilian World Cup squad giving it not only his endorsement, but also his money.
On top of that there have been some quite amazing political coups with countries that are not usually that 'friendly' using each other as a platform to announce their involvement. It was during the Pakistan launch that India announced its team, and then during the Australian launch that their big rival in just about everything, New Zealand, made its announcement. China is the next country to hold an 'official' launch and watch this space for the next batch of countries to join the series.
About the author:
Ann Bradshaw - Annie - began her motor racing career as a teenager, helping out her brother in local rally races in England, where she grew up. In the 1970s she organised motor racing events in England, and was later the press officer for the RAC MSA - the motorsport governing body in Britain. In mid 1980s, she became press officer to team Lotus, where she worked with Ayrton Senna. Shortly after, she moved to the Williams team and was working there for several years, when once again she found herself working with Senna. She worked with Damon Hill after the Brazilian's death, and moved with the British Champion to Arrows. She also worked with the Panoz team in the United States, before becoming a freelance press officer, now working with BMW among others. Annie joined Atlas F1 as a regular columnist in April 2002.