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Marko questions whether modern F1 drivers have the fighting spirit of legends like Senna
Posted By: James Allen  |  05 May 2014   |  9:32 am GMT  |  321 comments

“It would be unfair to compare today’s drivers (with Ayrton Senna), as they have a completely different socialization to back then.

“Today they grow up with their IT gadgets so they have never developed that down-to-earth race fanaticism – that fighting for every inch and sacrificing everything for it. It is a different generation.”

This was the quote from Red Bull Racing director Helmut Marko, when asked by Formula for its Senna tribute section.

It is an interesting concept, an observation from a man in his 60s who has been around racing for many years and who raced himself at a time when drivers were regularly killed. Marko himself lost an eye racing.

Do modern F1 drivers project passion? And as a consequence, does the crowd at the track and the TV audience have less passion to feed off?

As part of the ongoing discussion about F1 and what it stands for, this argument is worth noting, as the drivers are the ultimate showcase for F1, its most popular asset. Marko, who has overseen the progress of almost 100 young drivers through the Red Bull development programme, is suggesting that modern F1 drivers don’t project the passion for the sport that drivers like Senna did 20 years ago, “that down-to-earth race fanaticism – that fighting for every inch and sacrificing everything for it”.

I suspect that drivers like Fernando Alonso would agree with this.

Drivers arrive in F1 now having been on a conveyor belt since karting, funded by wealthy fathers or sponsors and thus highly professionalised from a young age, studying telemetry and data from the earliest days of karting. Are they motorsport fanatics or just drivers on a conveyor belt? That is Marko’s thesis.

Does seeing the world through a series of gadgets create a mood of disengagement in drivers, as many parents worry that it does in their children?

Marko contends that the young drivers of today are reared on Play Station games, iPads and gadgets and as a result they see F1 as a kind of technical exercise. No doubt the fact that the cars are safer -which can only be a good thing – plays a part in their mindset.

The flip side of this, of course, is that social media makes today’s drivers more accessible to the fans than drivers of Senna’s era. They can have a direct connection with the drivers.

And comments on sites like this one, show the level of interest and passion that fans have for their favourite drivers and ones they dislike.

He goes on, “If I were to pick three attributes for Senna it would be speed, charisma and ruthlessness. He was a driver with such a huge level of commitment – in all his races – and somebody who acquired an unbelievable charisma over the years.

“On the driving side you probably would find one or another driver who could match Ayrton, but charisma is something that you either have or you don’t have.”

It’s an interesting thesis, leave your comments below.

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From the current World Champs on the grid, i would state that Vettel, on one end of the spectrum, has no Charisma, and Alonso, on the other, has lots.

Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso are ruthless when need to be and all of them have speed.

I think the real reason Senna is so revered, is due to his sudden and mysterious death. Many wanted to see him win more. That’s all.


I think in general those nostalgic for the past characters are remembering a time when the driver made up more of the equation of success. A great car was ALWAYS important, but not as important as it may be now.

We wax on about how any driver could win in Vettel’s Red Bull or today’s Mercedes and I think there is some truth to that. Drivers have become sterile corporate tools as they know, with the right car, nearly everyone on the grid could replicate their success, so they best not screw it up. Case in point “one-timers” like J. Villenueve, Button, Mansell, Hamilton, etc… Yes, Jacques was outspoken – how’d his career end up? Or, Montoya? NASCAR… Really? Drivers can’t afford to be characters because they are more expendable now than they’ve ever been.


Much truth in what you say.


Well said! and all hail Sir Stirling Moss!!


Senna transcended the sport in a way that no one ever has, maybe in any sport. There’s hardly any sportsmen out there now that do the same especially not formula 1 drivers. Roger Federer does to a significant degree, if you are in his presence it’s not just a 17 time grand slam winner, it’s Roger Federer. Sachin Tendulkar also but he’s retired now.


As for social media. How social is it to live with one’s head down in a screen? Or through a profile on a website? The driver that unplugs and actually goes out to talk to and meet fans (as opossed to mumbling through some corporate event) will bring themselves into the public image in a way that Senna did. Being a winner will undoubtedly help in this regard. So, Seb, Fernando, Lewis and Nico start pitching up at local race tracks, kart tracks and genuine off publicity charity events if you’re sick of hearing about Senna. Start engaging with people as people and then we’ll see how things go…


A spectacle in search of its soul. I don’t think nostalgia has anything to do with Marko’s thesis. In days gone by F1 cars were more mechanical beasts than they are now. In essence and by definition the electonic, aerodynamic and circuit design progression we have seen over the decades has led to a more distant spectacle where speed is increasingly the product of deep pockets which hire/purchase the best designers/engineers. Perhaps that is why Alonso has garnered such cudos in recent times he seemed and to an extent still seems able to out drive Ferrari’s designers and engineers. In him we see the triumph of ability and passion over design.


Its very simple- safety, rules and regulations prevent drivers from fighting too hard. Im sure if you ask many drivers – they wouldnt want to leave a car width, change directions more than once when blocking. Further than that there is too much money at stake,’corporate sponsorship and contractual legalities to adhere too. The rules have changed so much too.

That said there will never be another Senna for every race Sat he stopped the pit lane, stopped viewers world wide in their tracks because everyone knew something special was imminent- You could not expect that from any other driver – could you ?.. No one could talk to me when quali was on in those days. I always questioned whether it was right for a driver to be on the very edge every time risking everything back then and I still do..

Today its still only Lewis Hamilton that I expect to see purple sectors from every single Q1 for many years regardless which team or car he drives for & very similar performances on Sunday.There is no other driver that you can expect that is there .. The only other driver that engineers sometimes can never explain the magic things he does in a car is Raikkonen. These 2 have a gift that separates them from others. The other great drivers are far more calculating and better prepared thats what makes them more successful sometimes.


I think it may be less risky these days. But in many ways today drivers face tougher challenges. The growth of the motorsport means, you gotta be the best out of 100,000 karters instead of 10000 karters. I wouldn’t be surprised if today drivers are better than the ones in the past.

It’s the evolution that wins.


Before we say that is 100% safe we have to stop for a moment and think twice. There is no such thing as safe motor racing. Only on the subject of airborne, ejected, flying objects/debris one could easily loose life. Massa, he was just very lucky, one inch more towards middle of his face and what could’ve happen, would he survive that impact ? And then when that tire belt nearly took Weber out, he could’ve been easily decapitated by that flying tire belt at those speeds. There are many more examples. Who was the driver who virtually landed on top od Alonso’s Ferrari, the other year ? Yes cars and tracks are much, much safer but there is still a huge risk involved and we must not confuse ourselves with those lucky moments as if F1 is risk free. Hats off to all drivers who are literally flying in those cars making it looking easy and safe.


“Are they motorsport fanatics or just drivers on a conveyor belt?”

As the operator of the biggest conveyor belt in the sport, I guess Helmut Marko would know the answer to that if anyone does.


“Spot on” by Marko! But more interesting is the question “why”?

My opinion? Because F1 became way too “corporate” in every aspect, i.e. team orders during the race in favor of the more ‘higher market value’ driver (imagine Senna being ‘ordered’!!!), script-based press conferences, no team ‘critics’ when the car is inferior (think Ferrari in the last 5 years), technical committees, lawyers, messiahs, etc.). And the races go pretty much as per a preliminary written film scenario. Sad…

Back then it was all about ‘winning at all costs’, no matter what (even death). There was much more honesty, sportsmenship, valour and drama (in the good sense)…

I am not thrilled where F1 is going these days..


“that down-to-earth race fanaticism – that fighting for every inch and sacrificing everything for it”.

This is no precondition to success and greatness. Fanaticism is fine, but sacrificing everything while going for that inch (which probably isn’t there) are qualities you associate with characters from mythological tales pitched against uncompromising predicaments. The hero then accomplishes the impossible. David pitched against Goliath comes to mind. Senna at the wheel of an F1 car car driving flat out with his life suspended in uncertainty, and on dangerous tracks with no run-offs, sets the scene for the typical mythical challenge between man and conquest. And, it’s do or die – bingo! And, if you die, you’re immortalized. The special thing about Senna was what Marco quoted about him (pasted above). Senna’s charisma was built on it. And, so, he was immortalized when he died – quite fairly too given the era he raced in.

We have a tendency to revel in tales, idolatry, iconography and mysticism. It drives our imagination, fantasies, and the opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves – gives meaning to life. Senna’s unfortunate and untimely death elevated him to a mythical status. Let’s not forget Senna used to go for that inch, and as Brundle says, “Senna gave you an option of either hitting the wall or giving him room to pass. He wasn’t going to back down”. Nor was Hammy in 2011.

Hammy went for that inch (without thinking much) and getting credited for being F1’s thriving new crash kid. There was fanaticism there (and, sometimes fatalism) in his driving – fairy tale stuff. Yet, we don’t praise Hamilton for his 2011 performances. We see it as he losing it that year.

So, is fanaticism gone? The simple answer is, you don’t need it, or if you have it, you don’t need your fans to know about it.

The sport has changed. It has become much more technical, more complicated and commercialized. It’s not that F1 drivers of today don’t have stand-out personalities, or their drive to race wheel to wheel has diminished. They are simply bound by contractual agreements and have to earn mileage for their endorsed brands. This is just how things are done today. But, out on track, the drivers do race, and race hard.

The first casualty in a world immortalized by fanatics are those quiet, methodical, intelligent and thorough individuals who get the job done equally well, but are mostly neglected, forgotten because they didn’t exhibit much people-charming charisma. This is why highly accomplished drivers like Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, Michael Schumacher, and now Sebastian Vettel, don’t get mentioned in the same breath as Senna, but are/were arguably very successful in what they did/do.

There’s a good reason why politicians and public figures need to have charisma, even if they lack substance. Senna, however, had both charisma and substance. He also deserves the praise and idolization he gets. But, I would never consider “do or die”, or “down-to-earth fanaticism” to be requisite of any racer past or present.

A champion is one who has the raw talent and methodical preparation to get way out on top of the competition. If this is achieved through flair, flamboyance, or accountant-style methodological analysis and preparation, makes no difference to me at least.


This commentary is nothing compared with normal jobs. In real life there is a huge difference between generations. In F1 it depends of the driver, his nationality, his origins, his racing, categories, his beginings in a F1 team (big or humble). F1 is now more a business than sport. This is the biggest change. Along charismatic drivers or “Shumacher succesors” you can find Alonso’s, Kubicas, and that kind of drivers who have to demonstrate much more than the marketing “products”. Something that it happened with Senna, a kind of a symbol, a marketing emblema of a race driver, in definitive an another product to sell F1.


A quick look for drivers with passion on the F1 website – I’d quite happily list Rosberg, Ricciardo, Hulkenburg, Alonso, Button, Massa, Sutil and Kobayashi


Great take down of the Vettel/Marko sort of malarky (thanks for the poster who reminded me of this great word).

Now they are not top dogs they are following the style of Ferrari and Montezemelo. It must be the silly regulations that stop us winning not out incapacity to innovate.


Hemingway once said:

“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

The list would surely be longer these days but would it still include motor racing?

Certainly F1 is not the beast it once was and it’s hard to argue to go back to those days.

Other forms of motor sport still have that ‘life on the edge’ feeling about them and it’s intoxicating.

In a couple of weeks time, I’ll be getting off a ferry in Douglas, Isle of Man for the TT races.

There’s a reasonable chance that someone will get killed racing there this year, spectators and visitors will likely be injured and some may die.

Put like that it sounds absurd to even think of going there to watch but the place will be full: every ferry, plane, hotel, camp site was sold out months ago.

Le Mans in June used to be the same, not been for a few years so not sure what it’s like now.

My point?

Like others have said, it’s the circumstances rather than the personalities that are the biggest factor in generating the ‘show’

The drivers now know when they’re getting the maximum out of the car, how many times do you hear them predicting [pre-race] where they’re likely to finish? – that can’t be right.

They have too much analysis and information gathering going on, get rid of some of it.

There’s often very little benefit or incentive for drivers to push harder and harder.

They don’t have to make the cars unsafe to change things, safety is [rightly so] always a one-way street, no U turns allowed.


I take my hat off to most MODERN winners. Yesterday’s heroes had a car that was streets ahead of the competition – that’s why they gained fame. By comparison, today’s cars are only fractions of a second per lap apart. So the skill of the driver (backed up by team strategy) makes a repeated winner stand out much more today.


extremely clear and concise post sir. you sum it up beautifully!


Yesterdays Heroes where just that, thee problem these days is the top drivers are the ones best at the game, we’re even talking about bringing in a driver that honed his skills on a playstation! It just doesn’t seem to take big balls like it used to. Stardom these days is two a penny and all you need is some good tattoos and wear very little clothing. Just a mention of the stars from the past( and I include Ayrton here) was enough to electrify the atmosphere, can we really say that of todays bunch?


what are you on about? hamilton noticed that senna car wasn’t set up right for the lap most people say is the greatest lap of all time. this tells me that hamilton can set that car, mp4/4, up meter than senna did and drive it faster too. they simply did know how to do it as well as hamilton does. everything gets better with time.

they call it evolution.


I think Senna acquired this God-status mainly due to his death on the track at the peak of his prowess. It is something like Monica Seles in tennis who could have achieved lot more had she been not attacked. But at least tennis world is sensible in not glorifying her as much F1 does for Senna (may be because she did not die on the court). I do admit that I’ve not watched him racing. But surely, in over 50-years of F1 history, there are other equally capable drivers like him if not a tad better. Whatever it is, if Senna were alive today, he would be part of this same system like other drivers. So you cannot really compare him with the drivers of this generation.


senna was not only the only champion at the time of his death but a 3 times world champion who humiliated the professor of f1 into retirement. his skill was superior to the field but the present greats are just as skilled if not better.


if senna carried on the way he did back then he’s have served many race bans now.

that aside, i did see senna drive (on tv at least) and his qualifying efforts were really quite stunning at times, but he made just as many mistakes as today’s drivers and he did not hold every record in the book.


Marko is entitled to his opinion. To formula 1 fans, his opinion is as good his relevance. My take, Graham Hill and the drivers from his generation were the best, as people, as drivers and as champions


Yes, I agree, right you are. They were far less self centered. They had much more social, down to the earth, relations. With fellow drivers and spectators alike. You could even engage in,one on one, conversation without utilizing non existent social networks. Life was completely different. But hey, what are wee talking about. Today if you are not self-centered you are just another looser. Senna was self centered to.


agree 100%

David in Sydney

The tools are different, the risks different, but the drivers are the same.

Put F1 drivers in over powered F3 cars and you’ll get Senna-esque drives from the likes of Alonso, Hamilton, etc.

Remember: every driver started off in karts, F Ford or F3 before getting spoilt by personal trainers, media liaison, a jet set lifestyle and too much money.

Every driver has had to decide whether to push someone off a circuit to fight for the corner, or to lift for fear of breaking their own neck.

F1 looks easy and hi tech but in race conditions I don’t think we could imagine how hard it is… many people wilt after 10 minutes at racing speeds in karts… let alone FF, F3… GP3… you get the picture.

They make is LOOK easy, but it it?


Helmut Marko’s always been known for saying things that force people to think, whether or not that’s his intention. This is another statement to file in that category.

The way I’ve seen some of the drivers on the current grid drive, I’d have to disagree with him strongly.

kenneth chapman

surely button’s question to his pit wall, ‘who am i racing?’ covers one of the most salient points in this debate.


😀 comical


Blah Blah Blah Dr Marko. I have only been watching F1 since 1985, but even back then it was hugely dangerous. And yes, maybe he has a point that drivers today are not fanatics, but that’s only what we see.

Drivers are groomed to be professionals now from an early age and taught what to say and how to behave, because that’s what the teams demand of them. I’m no fan of Vettel, but he has plenty of charisma away from the car and so do many other drivers.

And what Dr Marko refers to as Senna’s ruthlessness is not really acceptable anymore. On the track, Senna’s game was to put his and another car in a situation where there’s going to be an accident and then let the other driver decide on the outcome. And almost always the drivers would yield, unless they were blind (schlesser) or fed up (prost 89). Maybe drivers we scared of dying then, but now the racing standards are much higher in general, so drivers give each other racing room etc.

Let’s not forget he blatantly cheated to seal the title in 1990. Ruthless and passionate? yes. But tainted at the very least, if not sullied.

I’m no young bloke myself, but I really get annoyed by older people banging on about how “Oh they just don’t make em like they used to.” Well good I say. And the reason these young girls and guys are like this is because of how they were influenced and trained by the old blokes doing the moaning!

I’d love to see some more personality shine thru the media/corporate wall put up by teams now, but other than that I say I’m happy with the passion and commitment of the young drivers today and even more happy that we are seeing women come through as well. Let’s not forget that perhaps the upshot of all this sanitisation is that F1 will become a more accessible sport to female drivers… what will the old codgers say then?


“…what will the old codgers say then?”

>World Now Officially Gone to Hell<

(film at 11)


i like.


This is a somewhat muddled and ironic argument from Mr Marko. The notion of drivers’ motor racing career being like a conveyer belt, professionalised from an early stage is something they have been at the forefront of with their young driver scheme. And the standards of young driver schemes are so high that sacrifices remain very high to get to the top. Having a social life or even a family life? Forget it these days. Even those outside young driver schemes have to make huge sacrifices, in their cases financially as well (think Alonso or Robert Kubica).

Also disagree with the notion that professionalism has seen drivers lose their passion for the sport. Sebastian Vettel has been known to get very emotional when told of his achievements in the context of the history of the sport. Alonso and Lewis have been known to wear their hearts on their sleeves when things don’t go well. Mark Webber was always happy to be open and frank about a range of issues. And Felipe Massa got very emotional when he narrowly missed out on the 2008 world title.

If there are two issues at play regarding perception of drivers, I’d say one is probably a human element. Because drivers are so professional these days, maybe their individual human identity is less overt. In this context Kimi Raikkonen tends to be quite popular; he does stand out because he’s known to like a drink and he does things like riding in snowmobile events before GPs.

The other is probably that, with so much F1 news available to the public these days, and every major event dissected from every angle, we have all developed a deeper critical faculty. Hence the instinct is to be cynical or sceptical of most if not all drivers in some way, and most fans having grown up on a diet of “it was all so much better in the 1980s” – when news on the sport was less scarce, but growing quickly from a low base onto wider public consciousness – also then tend to follow the same argument, even if (like me) they weren’t around at the time!


talk of the good old days is bull and we know it.


Marko’s argument would be more convincing were he to compare the average driver of today with the average driver of past eras. Senna was a unique individual, one who demonstrated an ascetic level of commitment to his profession, that surpassed that of other top drivers in past and future eras.

If anything, drivers today are fitter, more prepared via use of simulators etc and more willing to indulge in the aggressive driving tactics pioneered by Senna and perfected into an acceptable practice by Schumacher. They also enter the sport younger, impressionable, thus groomed in the art of image management, in a breathless age of 24/7 media scrutiny. The likes of Senna, Prost, Piquet, Rosberg Sr, Lauda and Mansell (to name the top guys from 30 years ago) were less concerned about their image, or perhaps they had more latitude in shaping it. The likes of Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel have demonstrated an appreciation of F1 history, a level of raw talent, a passion for pure wheel-to-wheel racing, and commitment towards excellence that any of the greats before them have demonstrated. I argue that corporatism and excessive media scrutiny can kill emotion, technology obscures talent, and the cost-structure of the sport can kill competition. I don’t see this larger context transforming anytime soon, so we’d best appreciate drivers as products of their times.


“Are they motorsport fanatics or just drivers on a conveyor belt? That is Marko’s thesis.”

If Helmut Marko has overseen nearly 100 drivers through the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, then he has answered his own question, and he is in charge of the conveyor belt.

One thing you can’t do is compare drivers over the years, who’s best, quickest, more passionate etc. The sport itself changes over the years, as do media needs, sponsor demands etc.

Just because a driver might not come across as having passion doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it.

roberto marquez

I think the big difference is made by commercial interests.Nowadays a top pro sporstman has to weigh every word he says in fear he looses a contract.Pay makes a whole lot of difference also,if you get a contract for several years and hundred of millions,you will never take the risks people took in the past. I will give you an example from baseball,in the 50 s a team like the New York Yankees won I do not remember how many World Series ,however with the possible exception of Mickey Mantle(from the income point of view ) ,all its players had to play like mad because most of its yearly income came from going to the World Series and specially from winning it. If they did not get there most of them had to get winter jobs to pay family expenses,maybe selling cars,or insurance or training young people.Mantle had a big motivation also either he did very good in baseball or he returned to a mining job in Oklhoma.Nowaday you see kids signing contracts for 8 years for 170 million dolars ,and after 2 or 3 years,most of them are not a shadow of the original player.My suggestion pay for results, 500.000 euros for pole, 5 million euros for a win, 2 million for second place and so on , we would see much better and interesting racing. Sorry for taking so long to explain myself.

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