Happy New Year to all JA on F1 readers. Let’s hope 2018 is a good year for all of you and a good season for Formula 1. It should be a more competitive one, building on what we saw from Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull in the closing stages of 2017.
As we turn the page from 2017 into 2018 I thought I’d share some of my personal highlights from the year, including things that happened behind the scenes. Please let us know what your highlights were in the comments section below. We may well publish some of them in a separate post in the coming days.
One of the first obvious things that showed that F1 was in new and different hands after the takeover by Liberty Media was the way they handled the story of the young French boy, Thomas Danel, who was captured by TV cameras in tears in the grandstand after his hero Kimi Raikkonen was eliminated at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix.
In an F1 office in the paddock, it was suggested to Luca Colajanni, who now works for F1 communications department but used to be head of communications at Ferrari, that they should get the boy and his family into the F1 paddock and into Ferrari to meet and be consoled by Raikkonen.
It made for a genuinely touching moment of TV, sent out a positive signal about the sport and its outreach to fans and when I met the family an hour after the race, they were still wandering around the paddock shellshocked at what had happened to them. The parents’ mobile phone inboxes were jammed up with messages.
Interview with Charles Leclerc, Silverstone
Since meeting Ayrton Senna at a Formula 3 race in 1983, I’ve encountered plenty of young drivers making their way up the ladder to F1 and had the chance to speak to them before they got their F1 debut – and some of the future greats have made an impression.
I had that feeling again when I sat down with runaway F2 champion Charles Leclerc at Silverstone this year, in the F2 paddock up at the old pits complex.
Leclerc had shown amazing mental fortitude having recently won Baku despite losing his father that week after a long illness. Some of his drives in the series were reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton’s in 2006, when it was called GP2.
But he’s a different kind of driver from Hamilton. He has incredible speed, of course, but his overtaking style is less aggressive, more strategic and his feel is clearly exceptional. It’s very hard for a rookie to win the F2/GP2 title as the Pirelli tyres used there really take some getting used to and learning how to manage them takes time and experience.
Leclerc learned a lot in the first race weekend in Bahrain and from then on judged it almost perfectly for the rest of the year, against more experienced drivers.
Our interview which was published on JA on F1 in July, (link here) explains who this man is and where he is coming from. In the wheel tracks of his young contemporaries Verstappen and Ocon, this trio look set to form the F1 elite of the 2020s.
He will race for Sauber Alfa Romeo in 2018, so keep an eye on him. He is a Ferrari junior driver and Italian colleagues say that Ferrari has him lined up to replace Raikkonen for 2019, although there is a chance that if Vettel falls short again in 2018 they may look to Ricciardo. Time will tell.
A visit to Bernie’s office
As part of my remit with bringing my website and digital content business into the Motorsport Network, I have made several documentaries this season and in October I went to Princes Gate to interview Bernie Ecclestone for a film on legendary F1 photographer Rainer Schlegelmilch.
Bernie helped Rainer a lot and took him under his wing as his official photographer at one point, so it was important to get his take on Rainer’s work.
Having been used to not only waiting for Bernie, but also having limited time with him in the past due to his hectic schedule, it was odd to have well over an hour recording an interview and then chatting about life after F1. I’d had my motorbike stolen that week in London and he was even giving me advice on how to get it back!
Hosting the F1 World Champions at FIA Hall of Fame
Without doubt the best thing from 2017, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in motorsport, was hosting the inaugural FIA Hall of Fame event in Paris in December.
The event featured most of the living F1 world champions and representatives of most of the deceased ones too. It was therefore a unique event. They are all now inducted, so it won’t happen again.
It had the feeling of a huge event, in an intimate setting; the library of the Automobile Club de France, next to to FIA headquarters in Paris.
Drivers like Rosberg, Vettel and Alonso admitted that they weren’t sure what to expect before arriving there but sitting together with legends from the past like Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell and being honoured for their achievements in F1, was a powerful emotion and they were all extremely glad that they had made the trip.
It was an amazing night, of the highest level and a privilege to be part of along with my co-host Nicki Shields.
Daniel Ricciardo in F1 press conferences
This year wasn’t and easy one for Daniel Ricciardo, as I outlined in my Top 5 Drivers of 2017 post, but he certainly gave some fantastic entertainment in the official F1 press conference, which I host and moderate.
Whereas Vettel can often by funny in a sardonic way, Ricciardo is downright funny much of the time and we had some priceless lines from him this year. There was the hilarious episode where he asked permission and then broke wind after the race in Singapore GP, but my favourite was at the end of the season in Abu Dhabi, where he sat with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel and said, “Obviously I give every year a good crack, but (I’ll) give next year a proper crack.
“I mean between us all we’ve got eight world titles, so it’s pretty good! But, yeah, obviously we want nine!”
He’s a breath of fresh air and long may he stay that way.
So what were the highlights for you of the F1 season 2017? What were your favourite moments on or off track? Leave your comments in the section below