Tag Archives: round the bend

Round The Bend – No more heroes

Has our changed relationship with karting killed off the titans of the sport?

2009 CIK-FIA WORLD KARTING CHAMPS FOR DRIVERS & ASIA-PACIFIC KF3 CHAMPIONSHIP  COLOANE-MACAU
Adam’s hero Terry Fullerton (right) in a pensive mood

In September 1977 David Bowie released one of the most inspiring and romantic songs ever recorded, Heroes. Paradoxically, punk intellectuals The Stranglers had a hit with No More Heroes in the same month.

A year later, I was given my first copy of Karting magazine and from there on was hooked on what for me then, and largely still is, the most exciting thing ever. In the September 1978 issue, Terry Fullerton’s victory in the RAC British championships started what was to become my deep and abiding hero worship of the moustachioed genius.

Ayrton Senna da Silva’s exploits in the Le Mans World Championships added his name to a growing list of admired drivers; that also included Mickey Allen, Jackie Brown and Martin Smart. When he won the 135cc world title at Parma, Mike Wilson completed my personal ‘Holy Trinity’ that already featured Fullerton and Senna.

Oddly, I never saw any of them race. My fandom was wholly inspired by what I read in Karting and its rival, Kart & Superkart. Such were the reports that, in some ways, I didn’t need to because their exploits were so brilliantly captured by the writers of the time. Consequently, my first racing kart was a Zip/Dap – because that’s what Terry raced – before I bought a Wilson Premier, made by Mike’s legendary father Brian.

Hearing that his son was one of my biggest heroes, Brian once rather playfully told my dad that the Premier was based on Mike’s works Birel chassis. On rock hard Carlisle tyres it certainly didn’t handle like it but I didn’t care. If it was an English Birel, that was good enough for me. It even took me to the 1983 MBKC Junior Britain title.

During my youth I never met any of them, not Mike, Terry, Ayrton or even Mickey. However, I did finally meet six-time World Champion Wilson in 2006 and after introducing myself in a rather mumbley, awkward fashion, he invited me to join him for a pint. Those couple of hours, spent chatting over several beers were a delight and he revealed himself to be as brilliant in company as he was on the track.

With Senna no longer with us, that left Fullerton as my last hero to meet. I had heard that he is a notoriously spiky individual who does not suffer fools gladly. As a result, I had often seen Terry in the paddocks throughout Britain and Europe but never quite felt brave enough to do the shaky-hand thing.

At the Wackersdorf U18 World Championship opener, I spotted him on the dummy grid and decided to man up and press the flesh. I struck up a conversation and found an amiable, articulate and fascinating character. On the journey home I had the pleasure of spending a little more time with him and whilst I can see why he has a flinty reputation, nothing could dislodge the ‘hero’ tag I had applied over thirty years ago.

Like Stirling Moss had in F1, Fullerton invented the concept of being a professional kart racer and to this day, the leading factories employ supremely talented individuals to represent them at the highest level – but I wonder if they have anywhere near the status yesteryear’s heroes?

Perhaps not. Sadly there are far fewer manufacturers now and consequently there is a greatly reduced demand for professional drivers. Moreover, kids’ relationship with the sport has changed. In the Seventies and Eighties, karting was often rather sniffily referred to as the ‘poor man’s motorsport’ – and of course many young, talented drivers would, like Senna, graduate from karts to cars. For those who did, far more remained in karting for karting’s sake. If you look at some of the names in back issues of Karting, you’ll regularly see names cropping up across several years, if not decades. Nowadays, youngsters come into the sport because they see it as a means to an end. It is simply the first part of the journey on the way to F1 and as a result we are often privileged to see, but then deprived of some epic talents; Button, Davidson and Hamilton, to name but three.

What is it that propels them out of karting? During the summer I attended a round of the British Touring Car Championship and the Formula Renault races were tortuous. The drivers and their families were openly bored and several admitted that they missed karting. So why risk possible career failure and penury by leaving the sport that made you? Some drivers recognise this and stay. Ben Cooper is a recent graduate to the professional karting ranks and for me is emerging as a future hero. He’s quick, at Kosmic on merit and a terrific bloke to boot. Ben Hanley –ranked five years ago as the ‘World’s best karter’ – has had the balls to return to his roots with Maranello and with the likes of Convers, Ardigo, Thonon, Cesetti and my fellow columnist, Gary Catt, we are far from spoilt for choice – but I wonder if, compared to Fullerton, Wilson and Francois Goldstein they are equal in stature to the colossuses of yesteryear? With the increased media coverage, today’s professionals should be bigger stars than their predecessors and if not, why not?

Shortly before he died, Senna was asked who he thought was the best driver in the world. ‘Mike Wilson,’ he replied. The mystified Grand Prix reporter said ‘Who is Mike Wilson?’ ‘The best kart racer I ever saw’

Even F1 heroes had karting heroes. We all still should.

Round The Bend – A Finger of Fun

F1 drivers do it, footballers do it, even Frankie Dettori does it – so why don’t karters celebrate in style?

Formula One World Championship
Sebastian Vettel with his famous finger

Where do you stand on the finger? No, I don’t mean what Americans like to call ‘the bird,’ but Sebastian Vettel’s pointy celebration, usually aired immediately after setting pole position or winning a race.

It became particularly obvious to me after he’d stuck his RB6 on pole at the Australian Grand Prix back in March. As he climbed out of the car, Seb went into a frenzy of jabbing his finger skyward. It’s clearly designed to combine an expression of sheer, unalloyed joy with a clear, gesticulatory statement that says ‘Ich bin die nummer eins.’

Vettel’s ramrod straight digit first appeared when he won the 2008 Monza GP, where he combined it with more traditional air-punching gestures. Last season, he was able to pull his finger out eight times after setting pole and then winning at Shanghai, Silverstone, Suzuka and Abu Dhabi.

At first it all looked quite fun and combined well with his boyish grin, English sense of humour and natural exuberance. Now into its third season though, I’m becoming less sure. Mrs. Jones finds it a little arrogant and overly pointy, while I sometimes like to imagine he’s trying to get rid of an invisible bee – or flick away something from up his nose, after a mid-race rummage. But fair play to Vettel, he’s developed a celebration that is clearly his own – although others are now trying to copy it.

Formula Three star and Red Bull Junior driver, Jean-Eric Vergne appropriated it for his celebrations at Oulton Park recently – as did British GT race-winner Duncan Cameron at the same circuit. However, Craig Dolby took the Vettel Finger Point in a new direction when he combined it with the famous Schumacher Star Jump after his maiden Superleague Formula win.

Fernando Alonso likes to do a version of it, but his looks more like he’s telling a naughty puppy or child (Vettel perhaps?) not to wee on the floor or eat his Albondigas. Jenson Button likes to demonstrate his characteristically less haughty, but double-handed finger point (Which Mrs. Jones finds charming…)

Unfortunately, his team-mate Lewis has yet to develop, his own hand-based celebration, preferring instead the sporno approach. Kimi Raikkonen is also a fan – see www.thespoiler.co.uk/index.php/sporno and you’ll get my, er, point.

Talking of Hamilton, some celebrations can go too far. Ironically, just a week before the McLaren ace was caught ‘hooning’ by the Melbourne fuzz, Cian Fothergill had been forced to issue a somewhat grovelling apology for his ‘inappropriate actions’ after the opening round of the CIK Stars of Karting Series at Newcastle in New South Wales. He had crossed the line with both hands and feet off the controls of his kart – something the Nick Neri has made his signature move in the USA.

In football, goal-scoring celebrations are part and parcel of the game and have moved on from the classic ‘bundle’ and Alan Shearer’s terminally-dull method of sprinting back to his own half with his right hand in the air. Such was the Geordie maestro’s special brand of excitement that his team-mates at Southampton nicknamed him ‘Chicken and Beans,’ after the then teenage goal-hanger’s favourite meal. For me, Jimmy Bullard’s now legendary finger-wagging at a circle of his Hull City colleagues in a light-hearted re-enactment of the half-time roasting Phil Brown delivered to his team the previous season is the wittiest ever. Probably because it involved some comedic Vetteling.

Unfortunately, karting in the UK and Europe is sadly lacking drivers who like to unveil inventive, pre-rehearsed routines involving their team after each new victory, or who have, like Vettel, begun to experiment with the use of regular gestures. Trust me, I’ve searched high and low. I have a framed poster in my office from the 2008 World Championships, featuring Marco Ardigo crossing the line to win the title. He simply has both arms fully outstretched, hands clenched, punching the air. Yawn. In the same year, Robert Foster-Jones had celebrated his Winter Cup victory by recalling John Travolta’s classic Saturday Night Fever pose, but also liked to temper his other triumphal celebrations with the classic – but rather lacking creativity – clenched fist. Now a Formula Renault UK star, Will Stevens would celebrate his kart wins with a range of celebrations; including admirably applauding his mechanics on the sidelines.

However, Will joins reigning WSK KF2 champion Ben Cooper and 2005 World champion Oli Oakes in sharing the ‘Pointing at the Heavens with Both Hands’. Surely these fine drivers could have planned more exciting hand signals? I know a lot of people worship Valentino Rossi, whose post-race revelries have become almost as exciting and famous as the victories that sparked them, but he has so far failed to inspire similar antics in karting.

In the words of the Tories, it’s time for change, so I’m prepared to offer a prize for the photo or video clip featuring the most creative and original podium or finishing-line celebration. Send your entry to insert address …    

You never know, I might even see if I can persuade Seb to add it to his repertoire.

Round The Bend – All talk and no trousers

All talk and no trousers

Sponsors want communication skills to match driving ability but if you can’t talk the talk, go ape

So, the last episode of Life on Mars
has aired and that’s it, put away the Quattro. For many of us the series offered a view down the other end of a telescope, back to our freer, younger and far friskier days.

I grew up in the 1980s and did my utmost to cram a lot in. From winning the MBKC Junior Britain Championship, repeatedly fibbing to my parents about my whereabouts – for ‘Shakespeare study evenings at Manchester University’ read ‘Wahey, I’ve got tickets to see the Cramps/Killing Joke/The Cure/Siouxsie and the Banshees/New Order, Happy Mondays/etc’ – then on to university itself, before running a pub, moving to London and joining The Guardian newspaper.

Between then and now, I did a great many jobs – got fired from most of them – but learnt a lot on the way. Furthermore, I developed
a personal motto, ‘fill your life with stories.’ This has and still serves me well, because
at social gatherings I am often to be found nursing a glass and telling a ripping yarn
- usually at my own expense.

This was inspired by meeting people whom I could only describe as chaps who ‘had lived a little’. Consequently, they were excellent raconteurs and could draw on rich
- and often rather fruity – life experiences that some could only wonder at. What you put into life really does develop ‘character’ and it pains me to see talented young kart racers, bidding for long-term careers in professional motorsport, who do virtually nothing else but race.

Garda European February 2010
Nyck De Vries has fun with his race suit and kart graphics designs

Undoubtedly the monumental amount of seat time will, or should, create a fantastic driver – but professional motor racing is more than just a sport, it is a marketing opportunity. That’s why the brands associated with the upper echelons of motor racing look for ambassadors who can do much more than win races. They want fully- rounded personalities, who have what is commonly called ‘the gift of the gab.’

Virtually all the current generation of F1 drivers are masters at this. Weirdly, Kimi Raikkonen is rubbish at it and yet, when it comes to being a character, few can rival him. He has been photographed sleeping alfresco whilst cuddling an inflatable dolphin (I’m told such animals hold the same fascination in Finland as sheep do for the Welsh and people in the remoter parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria), and competed in power boat races under the name ‘James Hunt,’ while dressed as a gorilla.

Raikkonen always played down the suggestion that he had heroes, but famously acknowledged his admiration of Hunt.
The 1976 World Champion was eccentric, charismatic and terrific fun. His critics accused him of not taking the sport, or his talent, seriously enough – but Hunt didn’t care. He lived life as fast off the track as he did on it, and what James could do that Kimi can’t, is talk. Hunt was as colourful with his opinions as he was with his taste in cheeky t-shirts and badges on his race suit.

You can see an echo of the former McLaren ace in Nyck De Vries. Although still very much a kid, the diminutive Dutch star has a fine line in wit. He has worked with Freeminds to create one-off racesuits that cleverly reference the event he’s competing in. At this year’s Winter Cup he sported a design complete with embroidered snowflakes and the word ‘Brrrrrr’ all over it.

With so much at stake these days, it is unsurprising that karting and motorsport paddocks are becoming sterile places and discourage free spirits. The increasing presence of the media in karting is ironically contributing to this. Most teenagers find it virtually impossible to describe in glorious technicolor the innermost workings of their minds, let alone or paint pictures with words. Consequently, asinine, oft-trotted out lines become the norm. It’s not their fault; talking about yourself, or vividly describing a race

in a manner that ordinary people in their living rooms – who have no idea about what it’s like to drive a proper kart flat-out – can understand, is not in the school curriculum. And they rarely get detailed advice from the people asking the questions.

Even top F1 drivers fall into this trap as they churn out turgid tributes to the team, everyone back at the factory and their fans, etc, etc after finish in any position from 1st to 10th, or even lower. Frighteningly, kids in karting think this is what we hacks actually want and start parroting similarly anodyne soundbites.

It is important to develop interests and skills away from karting because, ironically, they could still have a beneficial impact on your pursuit of a career as a professional racing driver.

When he had his own junior formula race team, Jackie Stewart insisted that all his drivers could play golf to an acceptable standard. This was so his young protégées could talk to marketing partners in an environment they could share as relative equals and form a relationship over the 18 holes.

A life wholly devoted to reaching the pinnacle of motorsport is to be admired – but it is also important to expand your horizons. Marketing Directors like working with individuals who can relate to their target audience, are clean-cut but also capable of generating headlines, that’s why they use sport as a marketing medium. I hate the phrase but it is true, people buy people. If you can develop an easy way with folk from all walks of life – and of course, keep winning – you’ll have it made.

Adam Jones

The Devil is in the detail and that’s no Bull

Who could have thought that a trip to Milton Keynes would be so inspiring – Red Bull really does give you wings

A few days before the Australian Grand Prix, I was fortunate enough to be given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Red Bull Racing factory at Milton Keynes.

The staff must have thought their colleague was showing someone with, what politically sensitive people term ‘special needs’, round. I couldn’t stop grinning. It was cooler than a polar bear’s naughty bits. Admittedly this was the first F1 facility I’d been round, but I have been told by people in the know that whilst McLaren’s base is all ultra-modern sophistication and lashings of chrome, it is also like the handwash in the bogs – sterile.

Red Bull was equally hi-tech to the hilt and yet also very ‘human’. Adrian Newey still designs everything on a drawing board, but such is his skill as a draftsman that he is accurate to 0.05 of a millimeter – just using his eyes. In each and every department I was shown, there were friendly, smiling people and a lot of them.

What looked like a busy call centre was actually a huge design office full of egg-heads beavering away to find that extra something to keep Webber and Vettel ahead of the pack – or in Seb’s case, on the road. I met a jolly chap milling what looked like a lump of high density foam, but was in fact a mould for a wing end-plate for the race in China.

Round The Bend.indd

And in virtually every available piece of floor space that could randomly accommodate one was an ‘old’ RB-prefixed racer. Are they there to inspire the engineers? No. It’s simply because there’s nowhere else to put them. See, human. Red Bull is like your house. Unless you have the photographers from Ideal Home coming round (and frankly, who does?) you sling your old stuff anywhere.

But what my drum doesn’t have is a command centre. I was ushered into a room that appeared to have been styled on the bridge of the original Starship Enterprise and a small lecture theatre. In banked rows were about twenty computer keyboards and screens with a series of buttons and LED lights recessed into each desk space. These were for communicating to the pit-wall engineers from base camp. It was small, airless and devoid of windows. The atmosphere in there during a race must be electrifying and yet claustrophobic.

This and things like a state of the art gym for the drivers and mechanics shows the team’s holistic approach to the business of racing. It highlights that success comes from effective partnerships.

Many of the factory kart teams are now run on similar lines to those of their F1 counterparts and there is much that drivers can achieve by looking closely at the minutiae that goes on behind the scenes. As the old business maxim goes; fail to plan, plan to fail.

For drivers and team bosses who are planning to go places, an agreed plan and shared vision is essential. Furthermore, the DNA of Red Bull is marketing. The brand forms partnerships with companies and people who can help spread that message and what Red Bull has a particular genius for, is cool.

By that, I mean they take very simple, basic concepts, add a dollop of fun, produce something professional and then chuck it into the market. When they first launched in 2005, Red Bull knew it was going to struggle to figure on the Grand Prix grid but successfully side-stepped this issue by creating the Red Bulletin magazine and hiring a bunch of hotties to look gorgeous and hang out in the paddock, usually near a hot tub or in the Energy Station hospitality unit. People go where they’re invited and welcomed and here was Red Bull simply doing again, what they do so well, extend a welcome and create relationships.

The ideas they introduced also show how some things never change. A simple idea, well executed can seem fresh and innovative, but the Energy Station was simply a snazzy way of saying, ‘We’ve got two guys in the next GP, come and join us, we’ll have a few cans and cheer them on.’

Of course, sponsors were doing this back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Nowadays it’s just a bit more sophisticated and subtle, but it’s still the same concept.

Far less subtle was Lewis Hamilton’s very public split from his father. The issue is still shrouded in mystery and after being nabbed by the dibble in Melbourne he, according to many accounts, looked like a young man very much in need of his dad. With ‘hooning’ a hot topic in Australia at present (nothing to do with former Defence Ministers on the make) it was foolish (like being caught on camera by Channel 4). Lewis was also linked with a suggestion that Mark Webber should retire if he wins the world title, which incensed Eddie Jordan and brought more criticism of the 25-year old. Matters were not improved when the 2008 World Champion then had a verbal spat with his team, over the pit to car radio about being called in for a second set of tyres, while his rivals had stuck to one-stop strategies. He demanded “Whose call was it to bring me in? Freaking terrible idea” and sounded petulant, as if looking for someone to blame.

Ironically, it turned out to be a computer error. A simple mistake, made all the more ironic when you consider that Jenson Button, his McLaren team-mate and a man who possesses masterful inter-personal skills, made the earlier and ultimately decisive call in conjunction with his race engineer.

The mood down the pitlane in the Red Bull garage was phlegmatic. Vettel had looked set to take his maiden Australian victory until what appeared to have been a wheel-related problem pitched him off the road and out of contention. What he said afterwards is revealing: “I felt that something was wrong one lap earlier than I went off. I had some sparks coming up from the front left wheel; we didn’t know what it was and so wanted to pit. Then, a couple of corners before, I had huge vibrations building up and as soon as I touched the brakes, I had some sort of failure going in to Turn 13 and ended up in the gravel. There was nothing I could have done, I lost the car and that was it. It’s a shame as I think we had the race in total control at every stage, even though the conditions were difficult. But to win you have to finish. It breaks my balls not to get the win, but there’s still a long way to go in this Championship. We’re working hard to get on top the reliability issues and we hope to have a solid race and see the chequered flag in Malaysia.”

2015-01-19 15_44_43-KTG_05_P065.pdf - Adobe Reader

What he says is open, honest and from the heart. He mixes ‘I’ with ‘we’, takes ownership of what happened but shares the future goal. No wonder that Bernie Ecclestone said that if he could create the perfect racing driver, he’d design Sebastian Vettel.

It’s also why I am his and Red Bull’s latest fan and if you are pursuing a career as an F1 driver or wish to be the boss of the best kart team going, I suggest you follow them too.

Round The Bend – TV or no TV?

TV or not TV, that is the question

At long last, Super 1 will hit our televisions but can it compete with Mrs. Jones’ Beef Wellington?

My wife has just finished filming Come Dine with Me. In case you’re not already familiar with it, the show brings together four complete strangers who then compete to win £1,000 by wowing one another with their culinary skills.

For alpha male viewers, it is quite possibly the closest one can ever come to experiencing what it is like to be a woman. Thanks to its blend of conflict, nosiness (the guests are encouraged to explore your home, bitch about your wallpaper and rifle through your drawers) and simmering desire to score the maximum points from your rivals, CDWM is addictive, must-see television. And as a result, regularly attracts over four million viewers.

But these figures pale when you compare them with the coverage that Super 1 drivers can expect this season. 17.7 million homes, viewers in 38 countries and enough repeats to make a BBC scheduler weep with envy.

Or perhaps not. As a maths thicko (I can’t even count the number of my failed attempts at getting an ‘O’ and then a CSE in the subject), I’m not great at interpreting statistical data, but a little look at the BARB (Broadcast Audience Research Board) figures for last year shows that Motors TV had a daily UK reach of 62,000, or 0.01% of the total viewing public. Over a week, this meant that the channel reached 313,000 petrol heads, or 0.06% of the total British audience.

It ain’t quite Come Dine with Me – but let’s be fair, it’s a start.

Furthermore, the Super 1 organisers really do appear to be doing their utmost to help competitors raise their profiles and attract sponsorship via the magic of television. There’s a great idea in the press release about the commentator talking up the ‘insert the principal sponsor’s name here, of insert the driver’s name here’. IE: ‘The Freeminds UK kart of Jonny Walker’.

TF in 1980Furthermore, you can call upon John Hoyle (S1 Promotions Director) and Alan Taddei (of PSC, the production company) to assist you with securing backing with advice or by attending a meeting with you. This is fantastic news for drivers desperately seeking a budget, and again, I salute them.

However, what rather appeared like smashing a clay pigeon to smithereens and then celebrating by blowing your foot off, was the attendant hike in costs.

A debate raged on a popular website about how Super 1 could justify the substantial increase in entry fees. This prompted a rather jumpy statement from the championship organisers, and whilst it calmed some, it further irked many.

I confess I had a particular interest too. Back in 1996 I ran a downhill mountain bike racing series that was screened on Sky Sports. Sky basically told us that if we produced a series of high quality, broadcast-ready shows, they’d give us the airtime for free. This gave us a fantastic sponsorship opportunity just when ‘adrenaline sports’ were all the rage. I and my colleagues worked with a sales team who sold branding and corporate hospitality to major brands (Mars, for example) at each event. Eventually, we had a budget of £250,000; enough to pay for a top-flight production team and create a then record prize fund for the riders. Naturally, the chance to win a large sum of cash attracted some of Britain and Europe’s top downhillers and gave the Sporting Masters series automatic kudos.

And this is why I found myself shaking my head again. I’m not singling out Super 1 for a kicking, but I do think this issue points to British karting’s perennial inability to unite and work together. In some respects it doesn’t help that we have two national series competing with one another. Formula Kart Stars already has TV coverage and it is only right that Super 1 should also have the same.

The sad thing is that the promoters of the championship have passed on the costs of having TV cameras present directly to the drivers. This means that by my (admittedly somewhat wobbly) reckoning, each competitor in the MSA and Rotax championships will have to fork out over £2,700 for the privilege, whilst TKM entrants will benefit from reduced fees due to Tal-Ko subsidising the costs.

Alistair Darling may have said that Britain is officially out of recession, but being told by S1 that you’ll now have to find a substantial amount of extra money before you’ve even turned a wheel in anger, is shall we say, a brave move. Praise be that Messrs Hoyle and Taddei can help you find that much needed sponsorship.

Perhaps with their expertise, they can work to attracting marketing partners who, as ours did with mountain bike racing, want to be associated with a dynamic, colourful and thrilling sport. Karting should be on TV, it is as Senna said ‘the purest form of motorsport’ and has been successfully promoted in the past; anyone remember the 1981 Global Cup at Rye House? Pure TV gold.

Furthermore, with more drivers using PR agencies to help them polish their PR skills in front of the TV cameras, the sport is now ripe to make that long-awaited mainstream crossover. Brands looking to be associated with families, healthy, talented kids and future motorsport champions could do a lot worse than invest in karting.

Especially when you see that household names sponsor darts matches, which on TV, comes across as socially-acceptable binge drinking; while even two of the dullest spectator sports imaginable, snooker and indoor bowls, also successfully attract terrestrial airtime.

If only the ABKC, S1, MSA, FKS and the MSA could show more ambition and a clear, joined-up approach to working with the media, karting in this country would be huge. It’s not as if it hasn’t been in the past – the 1968 World Championship held at Rye House attracted over 20,000 spectators.

Round The Bend – Me ears are alight

Luke Whitworth_6826Me ears are alight*

Is the answer to the question ‘Should kart racers choose one class over another if they want GP teams to notice them’ to be found in old commercials on YouTube?

In the 1980’s a company flogging frozen, oven-ready chips had the nation’s children – and their parents – asking one of the key questions of the day; Daddy or chips?

Like the little girl in the classic McCain TV advert -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ksmb6iwPZYo – I have been turning over a similarly thorny question in my mind; Rotax or KF?

This particular conundrum was the subject of much debate at the opening round of the Super 1 Rotax season at Whilton Mill. Apparently, the source of the argument is someone who works in Formula One and their contention is, that if you want to get on his team’s radar, you have to compete in KF. I believe this to be a received wisdom – but do admit there was a time when I would have agreed with him. However, after watching and writing about both categories for several years now, I’m not so sure.

There are some team owners operating in KF who still believe that Rotax is little more than a hobby class and that the genuinely talented drivers are in the principal classes they cater for, KF3 and KF2. It is a neat little argument and you don’t have to be wily Edmund Blackadder to think, ‘Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?’

I can see their point. KF was born out of the demise of 100cc, which was what the Europeans amusingly called the ‘Queen class’ and through heritage alone, it regularly attracted the crème de la crème of karting talent. Then came the recession.

With many drivers’ budget directly affected by a change in the family fortunes, many either stopped racing, jumped to cheaper car formulae or found a more cost-effective branch of karting. It is hardly surprising that Rotax boomed during this time and today its Super 1 entries far outweigh its MSA counterpart. Moreover, Super KF and KF2 are now moribund in Britain.

The effect of the global Credit Crunch has had far reaching ramifications, which Jarno Trulli highlighted bluntly when he said that F1 would return to how it was in the 1980s – with a select few competitors who could make up for their lack of genuine talent by tapping into huge corporate budgets or family money and buying themselves a race seat.

Of course, this has always been the case in motorsport and karting, but it is getting worse. In Europe seeing the sons and daughters of successful parents working in the tiger economies being able to acquire the best opportunities is nothing new. Russian and Brazilian drivers are hardly a novelty but those from Asia – including India and China – are increasingly entering the fray and having an impact on the results sheets.

As cities like New Delhi are granted a Grand Prix, so the desire to see home-grown stars on the grid is a natural response. When everybody had, or thought they had, money, this was not a problem and the KF classes were packed with quality. Now, they arguably have kids with money, but less who have the star quality to match daddy’s spending power. Don’t get me wrong, I rate some individual drivers extremely highly but I would advise caution against the ‘less is more’ defence.

If you look at KF3’s opposite number, Junior Rotax, the driver who wins Super One on Sunday has had to beat nearly sixty rivals. Yes, not all are capable of winning – but surely if you have a class that has double the number of drivers, statistically the talent pool will be greater?

Karting has always had ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years where the level of competition is tougher and closer than in others but to blithely ignore the Rotax classes and some of the supremely talented youngsters therein could leave some of the chaps in charge of driver development programmes feeling like the little girl – and dad – in this advert, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jM8Q92YsyPM&playnext=1&list=PLE03C537E3F56E0D9

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbP_wBn3Lsc&NR=1

Round The Bend

We need a refuge from battered women. What are parents thinking when they get plastered in the paddock? As if silent marimba rhythms inspired the sway, she tottered through the crowded paddock. The warm rose wine in the plastic ‘glass’, as pink as the blush on her cheeks and in her eyes.

Eventually, having reached her destination, she threaded her way woozily through the awning flap and paused. Proudly seeing that she had the attention of everyone present, she let rip – “Youlotareallcheatin’an’everyoneknowsit!” Classy. I visited Kimbolton last season and a fair few mums and dads were clearly enjoying the odd drink – but the full scale of the fun was only revealed, appropriately, the morning after.

NATSKA had hired the circuit for a round of their championship and one chap commented that the number of bin bags bursting with empty wine and beer bottles and cans was astonishing. The tabloids are forever foaming at the mouth about “Broken Britain” and many of you will no doubt remember the image of 20-year old teaching assistant Sarah Lyons cavorting in the centre of Cardiff with a pair of knickers round her ankles. She wasn’t drunk though and they weren’t her own batty riders. She was apparently sober as a judge, after having just completed a course of antibiotics and had been given the pair of David Hasselhoff ‘comedy pants’ in a bar minutes before her photograph was taken. I’m not bad, she demurred, I’m just Miss-undie-stood. Alas, whether Ms. Lyons was actually three sheets to the wind is almost immaterial. She will be forever frozen in time in an image that totemic image of the binge-drinking, shameless generation. It was almost Hogarthian, Gin Lane for the Noughties. But let’s not be hypocritical. All of us have got up to daft, booze-fuelled japes at one time or another when we were young. Who hasn’t run round the streets naked for a bet? Even the Speaker of the House of Commons’ wife has admitted to some rather rum (geddit?!) behaviour in her earlier days. But since then she’s bent over backwards (snik snik) to put them behind her now thankfully, has got a grip, (fnarr, fnarr) on the situation. In short, we grow up (wahey!). I’m not a killjoy but I do believe that working with kids demands increased responsibility, whether in a professional or parental capacity. But I have noted that the sight of people swigging from cans or wandering around the paddocks with one or even two glasses on the go is becoming increasingly de rigeur.

At one race last year, I was separately barged aside by two proud but boorish mums, sloshing their drinks around as they pushed their way to the front of the trophy presentation. Intriguingly, I know both these ladies are trying to market their respective sons as future motor racing stars. I have some advice for them and other people that like to be something of a trackside ‘bon viveur’. If you are building towards your child becoming a professional racing driver, behaving like Keith Floyd won’t endear junior to the top teams. In my experience, F1 team bosses are as sensitive as cats and will often do a little research into a driver’s background – the City calls it ‘due diligence’. Furthermore, a big-hitting manager once told me that he looks very carefully at three elements in a possible signing’s make-up – results, budget and family. Having some decent initial funding, with oodles of talent and trophies to match, is one thing – but woe betide if daddy is a priapic old goat, who makes limp-wrist gestures and goes ‘woooo’ if you won’t put on your drinking trousers and join him getting ‘tight’ in the bar for a liquid lunch.

Similarly, getting jacked-up on Zinfandel and accusing youngsters or their teams of cheating, soon gets you a bad reputation. You might be able to get away with it for a while in karting, but it will very soon be noticed in cars. More to the point, if you wouldn’t ordinarily get hammered in your workplace, why would you consider it to be perfectly acceptable at a race meeting? For me a kart track is a place of work. Ask Ricky Flynn (of multiple-championship winning RFM) or Warwick Ringham (of Kart Masters, European and World Rotax title-holders Strawberry Racing) if they agree and I’d bet my mortgage that they do. New Year is of course the time for resolutions. Perhaps it’s time to realise that being off your head, whilst your kid is racing isn’t ‘being fun’. It’s a far more sinister thing. Not in a ‘You’ll die of cirrhosis and bowel cancer’ kind of way, rather more like gathering at a wake and reminiscing on what might have been for your progeny’s career, raising a wobbly glass, with a fag in the other hand and saying : “It’s what he would’ve wanted.” It isn’t. Not if you really think about it, in the sober light of day.