A ramble about Ralf and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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.

55 thoughts on “A ramble about Ralf and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

    1. Ben,

      No, Jenson was not the Pikey. You need to look outside England and think rhyming slang to figure out who it was. Jenson Bunton might be a clue for his nickname…

  1. That leads to some nice speculation. My 2 ct.
    Britney – Button
    Foetal – Vettel
    Weebles – Webber
    Stonefish – Kimi
    Spice Boy – Rosberg
    Bobcub – Kubica
    Dimmy – Ralf Schumacher
    Pikey – Barichello

  2. Dear Joe,

    I can’t remember where I read it, I think it was Alan Hennry said that he and some Journalists had a nickname for Massa, and after Hungary 2008 first corner, they never used it again,

    Any truth????

    1. Sam,

      The only nickname I have for Felipe is Fuschia-man and there is no way I am ever going to explain how he got that name.

  3. I’m amazed to see that quite a few people realise that Michael Schumacher is the greatest not because he won 7 world titles but he is the only one from the past 15 years who we think can be successful when he returns. This makes the difference between him and the others. I’ve seen wishes on the twitter that wanted to see Mika Hakkinen again. I really admire what he has achieved but can anybody imagine that for example Mika could be fired up again to go against the young guns? No way. And this can be applied to JV, Schumacher II and the other also-runs. So this situation with the wannabe returns are funny and sad in the same time.

  4. Years ago, I was watching the European Open at Sunningdale, just at the right hand side of the 17th fairway, you know. As Manuel Ballesteros ambled by, an extremely plummy voice just to my right said ‘isn’t it extraordinary how two brothers can be so different in ability?’, to which an equally plummy voice replied ‘couldn’t agree more, quite extraordinary!’

    I, being me, thought ‘what a load of b****cks, the only extraordinary thing is that Sevvy’s brother is good enough to be a professional at all, nobody else’s brother is’. Along with seditious thoughts about how out in the real world plummy voices numbers one and two probably charge ยฃ500 an hour to impart their exquisite-sounding wisdom.

    Anyway, we now have Michael back and his kid brother retired. So no wonder junior has thoughts of a comeback, but then he’s not quite the same kettle of fish is he? Although I always thought he was better than people gave him credit for. He was as good as Trulli, whatever that means. He seemed to be unpopular because of his arrogant manner and the fact that he was ludicrously over-paid. But the people who dissed him wouldn’t object to being ludicrously overpaid themselves, they just objected to somebody else being ludicrously overpaid.

    Happy new decade Joe, and thanks for a truly excellent blogsite.

  5. I always enjoyed the era of the rhyming nicknames…

    We had Jos “the boss” Verstappen.

    We had Juan “the man” Montoya

    And if memory serves, Ralf’s nickname in that era was Ray, was it not?

  6. Emma Bunton was Baby Spice, right? So Jenson is Spice Boy? Hehe

    I used to call Nelsinho something in Norwegian based on his last name and its similarity to a Norwegian word for a prominent part of the male anatomy.

  7. as far as I know Nico Rosberg was known as Britney. ๐Ÿ™‚ btw I’ve some flashbacks of a guy called Pizza Boy ๐Ÿ™‚ even Webbo mentioned him in an F1 Racing interview ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Ok, this is the tried harder version

    Britney โ€“ no idea
    Foetal โ€“ Vettel
    Weebles โ€“ (loves pies to an unhealthy extend) Montoya
    Stonefish โ€“ (Worst Pain Known to Man) Ralf Schumacher
    Spice Boy โ€“ Rosberg
    Bobcub โ€“ Kubica
    Dimmy โ€“ Kimi
    Pikey โ€“ Mikey Schumacher

  9. Back in the 80s when a bunch of us travelled to lots of European races using Page & Moy’s ‘Fast & Cheap’ service (or quick & dead as we called it) we jokingly adopted the ATS Arrows driver Slim Borgudd as our favourite back of the grid driver.

    We gave him a nickname….. We called him ‘the Stig’.

    I’m still waiting for the royalty cheques to start rolling in!

  10. Joe,

    But how on earth did Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang get that extraordinary name? If you know (and I suspect you do), then it behoves you to explain forthwith …

  11. If Peter Windsor likes Argentinian drivers so much, I kind of look like Josรฉ Froilรกn Gonzรกlez and have some karting experience… does this mean that I will be soon rumored to be a USF1 driver as well?

    (Pending my super license and breaking open the penny bank of course.)

  12. ok Joe what about:

    Britney โ€“ Rosberg
    Foetal โ€“ Vettel
    Weebles โ€“ Montoya?
    Stonefish โ€“ no idea
    Spice Boy โ€“ Button
    Bobcub โ€“ Kubica
    Dimmy โ€“ Kimi
    Pikey โ€“ no idea

  13. Britney – rosberg
    Sebastian Foetal – vettel
    Heidi – heidfield
    Weebles – webber
    the Stonefish alonso/nakajima
    the Spice Boy – button
    Bobcub – kubica
    Fizzy fisichella
    Scrumptious – trulli
    Dimmy – kimi
    Pikey – nelson piquet junior

  14. Britney โ€“ Rosberg
    Foetal โ€“ Vettel
    Weebles โ€“ Webber
    Stonefish โ€“ Ralf Schumacher ?
    Spice Boy โ€“ Button
    Bobcub โ€“ Kubica
    Dimmy โ€“ Kimi
    Pikey โ€“ Kovalainen

  15. Joe, I agree that Chad Hurley would be wise with his money. I am interested in what his financial support actually is. Typo last sentence, too….

  16. This is better than guessing the top 5 drivers on another site, does the winner get a copy of the GP Saboteurs book?

  17. Just for the record, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the name of a film.

    The cars were called Chitty Bang Bang’s.

    If anyone is around Weybridge on New Year’s Day Brooklands holds a rally why not call in.

    http://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/index.php?/events/details/2010/01/01/

    As far as nicknames are concerned the only one I know that hasn’t been mentioned is Grindbak, which (I am told) is Dutch for Gravel Trap. You can work that one out for yourselves.

  18. Hi Joe,

    Many thanks for this interesting post! Ralf Schumacher at USF1 makes sense on a number of levels. It would generate some media hype for the new team; Schumacher is one of the few F1 brands that even Joe Soap in the US will be familiar with. Like Windsor, I have defended Ralf from a lot of abuse in the past and I think he could be a smart, steady pair of hands for a new team. His time at Toyota was a sad end to his F1 career; he seemed disinterested in the sport and simply happy to collect the paycheque. However, one must remember that both at Jordan and Williams he showed real pace on many occasions and has put in a number of drives. I don’t know what’s been going on in his personal life these past few years but if he has refound his motivation I think he would be a wise choice for USF1.

    Meckel

  19. A friend of mine amusingly calls all Japanese drivers ‘crash test dummies’, dare I say for obvious reasons. But he also says that while there is value in ‘test dummies’, most do however have a frustrating habit of getting in the way of most or if not all other racing drivers and causing most accident in his opinion, thereby living up to their title. I should stress that this is all said with affection and a smile and is not meant to be offensive…

  20. Joe,

    Great post!!!

    This is one of those examples for defining a great “bloggery” exercise. Congratulations for that.

    On the other hand, talking about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a pic I made some time ago come to my mind…

    The New F1

  21. Funny! Very funny!

    No nicknames here (other than “Fred,” which should be easy to figure out), but the Mrs. and I did have a long running schtick about Ralf, his (completely fabricated) distracting obsession with candies, and Cora’s superior driving skills.

    Oh, there is Miss Marcia Webber, though. Almost forgot about that…

    And who wrote that hilarious “Secret Diary of Adrian Newey”? Years later I still get soup references from the Mrs.

    I’ll close with this apt quote in tribute to the Muppet reference:

    Statler: Wake up you old fool. You slept through the show.
    Waldorf: Who’s a fool? You watched it.

  22. Webber himself has used Britney in reference to Rosberg ๐Ÿ™‚ Half Schumacher (already mentioned above) is also a big favourite of mine, as was Twobens Barrichello, which has over time morphed into Boobens.

    Also enjoyed calling Super Aguri “The Goo” – it was a term of endearment.

  23. I’ve always thought that Rubens is the most unlikely looking race car driver. He looks more like a dentist.

    Rubens Barrichello, DDS.

  24. I guess it is only fair that Windsor has nicknames for drivers, since in the US his nickname is “Peter Hamilton” because his nose is firmly planted in Lewis’s butt.

  25. “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” for the 1988 NASCAR Champion Bill Elliott. Say it with a southern twang and a smile and it is a nickname only slightly less embarrassing than the USF1 team will be.

  26. Just found Joes blog – love this post. Great speculation. Of course should add to list Hunt the Shunt, great days of Hesketh Racing and the “bear upfront”.

    On the Chitty aspect, it was rumoured that one of the Chittys is burried in a lake again Kent – OK story goes that after a series of problems and unmemorable races (read failure) a certain owner (rich) was so put out he drove his Chitty into the lake infront of his estate mansion and had workers overnight fill in the lake (I said rich). My info is there is a lot of truth in the story.

    bslideres – love the pics, especially Chitty – as someone who has driven Chitty (OK the Ford Transit based car from the Film) I think the look would appeal to a lot of fans. Bring them on as they say ..

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