A while back, sitting in the media centres around the world, Peter Windsor – now one of the principal players in USF1 – used to pass many hours with us during the various F1 practice sessions, noting the action and having fun. We had (and still have) nicknames for all the drivers, many of which I could not publish as they would result in instant legal action from those involved (some of whom, amazingly, do not have a sense of humour). Needless to say they included Britney, Sebastian Foetal, Heidi, Weebles, the Stonefish, the Spice Boy, Bobcub, Fizzy, Scrumptious, Dimmy and the Pikey. Yes, I know the last one is a controversial term but as William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens both used it I am really not too bothered.
Most of these nicknames have logical explanations and, as we are journalists, some of them are literary references: Jarno Trulli, for example, is Scrumptious because of the fictional character Truly Scrumptious from the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which based on the children’s novel of the same name by Ian Fleming (who did more than just James Bond). Truly was played by the wholesome Sally Ann Howes.
Takuma Sato was known as Darcy not because of any pride or prejudice but rather because a very long time ago Tony Hancock invented a whodunnit writer called Darcy Sarto, using the names of two pseudo-American gangster writers of the fifties, D’Arcy Glinto and Ben Sarto. One of the older gentlemen of the Media Centre remembered this and so Takuma became known as Darcy.
Heidi is a simple contraction of the name Heidfeld and a literary reference as well, as the Heidi books of Johanna Spyri, probably the best-known works of Swiss literature, were widely popular with girls when I was a kid. We have had many a laugh thinking of Nick wandering among the mountains, picking edelweiss…
We used to call Nelson Piquet Jr “Marie” because we reckoned that the team’s then PR lady Marie Hirth would have done a better job. She was an ace kart racer in her day and regularly beat some of the star names. She, incidentally, was always known to us as “Nelson”.
It is all harmless entertainment which we always think would be great TV, in the tradition of Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, although it would have to be toned down a bit to be politically correct. Still, if Howard Stern can get away with what he does (and wind up with a house in the Hamptons), I don’t see why we could not do the same…
Peter was sometimes involved in this idle banter and was known for a time as “Radio Ralf” because of his constant defence of Ralf Schumacher’s ability, which was always under attack. Peter often said that Ralf reminded him of Carlos Reutemann (the ultimate Windsor compliment) and it struck me the other day that now that Peter is a team owner perhaps USF1 might be planning a Schumacher comeback of its own.
The market for drivers is a bit thin this year because of all the new teams and the need for experienced men because of the lack of testing. USF1 is still the only team not to have named a single driver and while some say that the team’s backer Chad Hurley has deep pockets, he is also a smart guy and will not be investing too much of his money in a risky business such as a racing team. Ralf Schumacher has now come out and said that he had an offer to return to F1 in 2010 but turned it down because it was not the kind of challenge he was looking for.
My feeling is that the offer will have come from USF1…
As an aside, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is known nowadays as a musical about a magical car that can fly, but Ian Fleming did not simply conjure up the name from the depths of his imagination, but rather borrowed it from a car that was raced at Brooklands in the 1920s, built by Count Louis Zborowski and the marvellously named Captain Clive Gallop, in sheds at Zborowski’s splendid country estate at Higham Park, near the village of Bridge, close to Canterbury.
Zborowski was the son of Count Eliot, one of the first men to be killed racing – a victim of the terrifying La Turbie hillclimb in 1903. Louis and Gallop created some spectacular machines, notably Chitty Chitty Bang Bang I, which featured a modified Mercedes chassis fitted with a vast 23-litre Maybach engine (which had been used to power Zeppelins during World War I). This car proved to be immensely fast at Brooklands, although it is probably most famous for crashing through the Brooklands timing box in 1922 after a tyre failure. There were two other Chittys built later, before Zborowski turned to using customer cars (he bought the Aston Martin company along the way) although he continued to make cars for record attempts – including the Higham Special – until he death at the wheel of a Mercedes factory Grand Prix car at Monza in 1924.