Last night I went to the Autosport Awards at London’s Grosvenor House hotel, the annual end of season get together for the UK motor sport industry.
It’s changed little over the years, my old ITV colleague Steve Rider still presents it; gently and respectfully taking the mickey out of many of the great names of the sport.
Strictly speaking Kobayashi wasn’t really a rookie this year as he made his debut in 2009, but who’s going to split hairs when a genuine star is there on hand? I’m amazed by the warmth of feeling of F1 fans in Europe and particularly the UK to Kobayashi. They love a battler and he has a certain style about the way he goes racing in F1 cars. He is certainly not afraid of trying some moves and they usually come off. He has been voted driver of the day on many occasions this season on this site and in our Top Five Drivers of the season competition, he had a lot of backers.
Collecting his award, he shrugged off questions about why he’s so good at overtaking, saying that if he sees a gap he just goes for it.
“Many good drivers have won this rookie award before me, and it is very nice for me to belong to that circle now, ” said Kobayashi today. “Obviously I will never have the chance to win this prize again because next year I’m not a rookie anymore. I will do my best to maybe come back one day to pick up one of the other trophies.”
The new world champion was there to collect the award for the best International driver of the year. He had celebrated the title with his team the night before in London and was on good form.
Vettel had a very strong end to the season, with four poles and three wins in the last four races bringing him the title.
“It was a difficult season, lots of ups and downs, things not going according to plan, but we kept our head down and kept focussed, ” he said.
He revealed that in Korea he had seen a diamond-vision screen with a championship prediction with his name on top, but then soon after his engine failed. So he had become very superstitious and did not want to tempt fate in the final races.
“To come here for the first time to the Autosport Awards is special,” he added. “I came for the trophy, it’s very special, I was hoping to get it. I saw guys like Senna picking it up, it’s a big honour.”
Vettel paused on his way to the podium to shake hands with Sir Stirling Moss. I note that the great man said some interesting things about Vettel in his blog after Abu Dhabi,
“I think he’s got huge reserves of natural talent.. I can see parallels between Vettel’s career and Jimmy Clark’s,” wrote Sir Stirling. “Clark came in at Lotus and didn’t have to try that hard because he was so talented and Colin Chapman was delivering very fast cars. I think the Vettel/Red Bull combination is similar.
“Jimmy was a very pure natural talent and would always get the best out of his car and Vettel drives in the same way.
“When you meet Vettel you come away thinking he’s got a lot more to him than just being a driver. I’ve met him away from racing and he handles himself well and has a very good sense of humour. In contrast, Fernando Alonso is a good role model, but goes about it in a less human way.”
Interesting stuff from a legend, who has seen all the F1 drivers in the sport’s 60 year history close up.
The mood of the evening was pretty light and upbeat. However there are still plenty of people taking about how hard it is to secure a budget for international racing series like GP3, which is £600,000 a season. I talked to one GP3 team owner who would love to run Lewis Williamson, the new McLaren Autosport Young Driver, next season. He won £100,000 as his prize, but that still leaves the young man looking for half a million pounds to do the GP3 season. That’s crazy.
GP2 now is the best part of £2 million a year. No doubt plenty of real talents fall by the wayside. It’s always been like that and it’s a tough game, but surely never more so than now.
As John Surtees said last night, the costs are too high. The FIA has made some attempts to introduce cheaper racing with the F2 series, but it doesn’t enjoy the limelight that GP2 and GP3 get from being on the F1 calendar and so they are the series to be in.
New DTM champion Paul di Resta was very prominent in the ceremony, handing out several awards and conducting himself with a very high profile. The talk is that he is oh-so-close to the Force India drive, but the deal is not done yet. Presumably it would be Tonio Liuzzi who would make way as his performances this year did not match Adrian Sutil’s, but Liuzzi would need paying off for the final year of his contract.
The feeling also seems to be that Nico Hulkenberg will end up as reserve driver for Mercedes, which would be the right move for his career. He’s waited around a long time with Williams before getting his chance, but he ended the season with his stock looking high and he can afford to wait for Michael Schumacher to do another year before potentially slotting in alongside Nico Rosberg, who should be well and truly capable of being a team leader by then.
There was a big turn out of Virgin Racing people. They weren’t giving anything away about the identity of Timo Glock’s team mate next year, but did say that they hoped to get it done and announced by Christmas. It’s almost exactly a year since the Virgin team launch on a freezing cold day in London – as it is today – and it seems like they like the pre-Christmas slot for announcing things.
Jerome D’Ambrosio seems to have a good chance there having done some Friday running at the end of the season. But the new part owners and title sponsors of the team, Marussia, may are sure to have lobbied for the team to consider a Russian, like 23 year old Mikhail Aleshin, who beat Daniel Ricciardo to the Renault World Series championship.
Ferrari was not strongly represented at the Awards. As far as I could tell there was only Luca Colajanni, the communications director. This was not a show that particularly loved Ferrari, in fact there was quite a bit of black humour at the expense of the team and of Alonso in particular and I kept looking across at Luca to see his reaction.
There is a feeling abroad about the influence of the British over the way the sport is both run and perceived. This is probably slightly less since Jean Todt took over from Max Mosley as FIA president, but it is nevertheless a powerful force and it is often debated by fans on this site.
The British media has a strong influence over fan opinion in many countries and you can begin to understand how non-Brits feel when you sit through an evening like this with lots of emphasis on and kind words about, the perennial Autosport favourites like Dario Franchitti, David Coulthard, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
Vettel’s Germanness was also referred to a few times, but he handled it well. When Rider responded to Vettel’s line about crying on the slow down lap in Abu Dhabi, by saying “We were all crying,” Vettel shot back, “Really, for a German?”
To be absolutely fair, there was also a lot of black humour at the expense of Ron Dennis, who was not present. Several people, including Rider and Eddie Jordan commented that this brightened the atmosphere of the evening no end.