One of the things I love most about my job as an F1 journalist is the variety it provides from one day to the next. Yes, a lot of time is spent travelling, and much more in front of a computer, but chasing F1 cars around the world leads one down all manner of colourful highways and byways, meeting unusual people.
And thus it is that I find myself, on the first working day of 2016, listening to the surf crashing on to the beach, while lying in bed in a hotel where Charles Dickens wrote Nicholas Nickleby.
According to the hotel Guest Services folder, this was a place Dickens visited often with his friend “Wilki Collins”. I love hotel blurbs. They always make the world seem a much more exciting place than perhaps it is. So, here I lie, in the place where Dickens dreamed up Wackford Squeers, Newman Noggs and Sir Mulberry Hawk. I have always been jealous of his ability to name characters so beautifully, although I suppose one cannot really complain when one deals with Jenson Buttons, Lewis Hamiltons and Fernando Alonsos. I always thought that Dickensian names were just a little exaggerated, but when one considers that Dickens was introduced to the aforementioned Collins by an artist called Augustus Egg, perhaps life and art are more closely allied than I sometimes imagine.
It was the misspelling of Wilki that got me thinking that that perhaps the hotel owners are not really the literary buffs they might appear to be, as no student of English literature would make such a mistake. Collins was a literary colossus in his own right, being known as the inventor of detective novel genre and considered in his day as a match for Dickens. His Woman in White and The Moonstone are both classics. I read them many years ago and remember liking them.
Anyway, it struck me that Dickens was famous for writing his novels in a serial format, publishing the stories in literary magazines, in monthly instalments, later collated into single volume novels… so I suspect that Nicholas Nickleby was not written during a brief stay in Room 35, overlooking the sea, but rather hammered out in 20 different places, depending on where Dickens was when his magazine deadline approached.
Still, I have long argued for good promotion in F1, and here is an example of using what one has to create a better business. I may have stumbled on the place by accident, but it seems that others visit because of the Dickensian connections.
All of this happened at the end of my first working day of 2016 during which I rediscovered the joys of driving through the night on French autoroutes, (listening to Gainsbourg, of course) and watching the windmills loop their loops. I caught a ferry (the tunnel being wildly overpriced), which took me back to my youth and gave me a nice view of dawn breaking over the White Cliffs of Dover, and then I headed on to my destination – Cranfield University – at the end of a rainbow.
They say that at the end of every rainbow there is a pot of gold, and perhaps that was true because I was at Cranfield to talk to (lecture is a big word) the latest group studying for a Master’s degree in motorsport engineering. There are about 30 students a year and most go on to be involved in the sport. Who knows? Perhaps the next Adrian Newey was there… Hence the rainbow.
As I don’t know a sprocket from a rocket, I might seem an odd lecturer on this subject, but part of the education of any good engineer is to understand the environment in which they will be working – and I talk each year about the business and the politics of the sport. It’s a good way to begin the year, as it involves putting a lot of very complex concepts into a concise and understandable form, and that, in itself, often provides insights.
It’s always rather inspiring to see the next generation of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed enthusiasts getting ready to launch into the business, and it gives me hope that all of F1’s current problems are simply a passing phase that will disappear, soon enough, and new ideas and new energy will arrive and drive the sport onwards in a constructive way.
Engineers are usually the smartest people in the sport, although few of them care much about the business side, as they get their kicks from designing the perfect gaffer-dazzler, thus leaving the finance and politics of the game to those with perhaps a little less intellect, but a lot more nous. Perhaps the sport would be in better shape if the engineers had more nous and the others more intellect.
Now there’s a thought.
Anyway, that was followed by a whistle stop tour of Canterbury and then a hotel by the sea, not too far from Dover. Today it is back to France, through the teeming rain, to where a computer screen awaits…