It?s hard to dislike drivers once you?ve met them

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Nelson Piquet Jnr, 2007Getting to meet F1 drivers properly is not something I get to do very often. The days of being able to mill around the pits with them are long gone – these days you’re lucky to get a cursory glance and an unintelligible scrawl on your race day programme.

But on the rare occasions I have got to exchange words with a driver I?ve been reminded that it?s a lot easier to dislike someone until you?ve met them.

Of the current grid I?ve only seen a few of them ?ǣ Mark Webber, Ralf Schumacher, Heikki Kovalainen and Nelson Piquet Jnr ?ǣ and not really been in a position to strike up a conversation.

Even so I was impressed by Piquet. I?d not thought much of his rise through the junior formulae given that most (if not all) of his teams were backed by his dad. I?d read journalists? descriptions of him as surly, but his gracious willingness to sign autographs for a friend of mine convinced me that I?d been a bit harsh.

Similarly although I?d never been a great fan of Damon Hill ?ǣ always a distant second to the swashbuckling Nigel Mansell in my affections as a young F1 fan – I was blown away by his cool, rational intelligence when I interviewed him for Auto Trader last year. This man should be FIA President after Max Mosley. No-one else deserves get a look in.

Away from F1 the biggest change of heart I?ve had has been about Italian touring car racer Fabrizio Giovanardi. He had a stack of titles to his name before arriving in the British championship in 2006. But I?d written them off in my mind as the work of someone who?d cruised and collected easy titles in top-notch factory cars in under-subscribed series.

Having met Giovanardi several times last year, and been driven around Thruxton with him in a Vauxhall Vectra, I have changed my mind about him entirely.

His racer?s intellect is cool and razor sharp. He knows how to make a racing team gel around him. And he has a wicked and understated sense of humour.

I hope in future to get to meet more of the current F1 grid and I fully expect more of my expectations to be utterly confounded.

Which drivers of the past and present have you met? Were they what you expected them to be?

More on meeting drivers

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “It?s hard to dislike drivers once you?ve met them”

  1. I guess a bit like you with Piquet, Keith, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Kazuki Nakajima’s rise through the lower formulae ranks. In an almost opposite move to Piquet, Nakajima tried to shrug off his family connections, but arguably this led to a struggle for competitiveness. When I had the chance to meet him, I was expecting an an attitude similar to (IMO) Ralf Schumacher’s regarding the surname, and I was also expecting to be struggling to understand him, given that he is young and Japanese. But that didn’t happen. Kazuki spoke very well and clear and came across as intelligent and focused. I got the impression that if I had tried to prod him or provoke him into talking about his association with Toyota over Honda, he would have answered eloquently and respectfully. He genuinely smiles lots as well, which is strange in F1; most of the smiles from other drivers are fake.

    Starting to agree with you over the Hill for FIA resident thing, by the way.

  2. TommyBellingham
    17th January 2008, 13:24

    I met Ralf back in 1997 and he was really nice and gave me a lot of time when signing an autograph. Maybe it was because I was only 8 years old :P

  3. “This man should be FIA President after Max Mosley. No-one else deserves get a look in.”

    Sorry, my vote (like I have one) goes to Wurtz. Either way its better than Max.

  4. I’m a keen autograph hunter and have been lucky enought to spend several weekends in the F1 paddock.

    By and large I have found all the drivers to be very pleasant
    Michael Schumacher – friendly but is careful about what he signs, he signed some photos, of me with him, with very good grace
    Damon Hill – agree entirely, this was at Belgium in 1994 so he was in the eye of the storm but took time for photos etc
    Mika Hakkinen – cool guy, met him in F3 in 1990 and then again at various times in his F1 career. Took the time out for a 5 minute chat at Belgium in 2000 to sign a photo of a very small me with him taken some years earlier
    Ralf Schumacher – at Silverstone in 2000 he was extraordinarily pleasant
    Alain Prost – this was at Spa in 2000 so the pressure was on, but he invited me and my brother into the Prost motorhome so he could sign the autograph properly
    Heikki K – probably the friendliest of the current crop of F1 drivers. At the Silverstone test last year, he and Nelson Piquet were standing at the back of the Renault motorhome signing autographs pretty much every second they weren’t in the cars

    Surely the nicest of them all though has to be Alan McNish who is a massively top bloke, and always takes time to talk to everyone. Andy Priaulx, Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine must take a close second.

    If you are serious about getting your autographs – go to FFord, F3, TOCA meeting etc and meet the drivers on their way up. Its also a great way to invest your support in various drivers on the way up. Its also quite funny to see how the signatures change – for example I have David Coulthard’s from 1990 and he’s only just started writing joined up

  5. “It’s hard to dislike drivers once you’ve met them”
    Hope I never meet Alonso then!

  6. “This man should be FIA President after Max Mosley. No-one else deserves get a look in.”

    Sorry to disagree Keith, but it should go to Sir Jackie based on his longstanding commitment to the sport, and the fact that it would drive Max into an asylum where he deserves to spend his remaining years.

    I don’t know if Damon has the experience to deal with the sport’s leading international personalities like JYS would, at least on the FIA level of things.

  7. I did get to interview Sir Jackie towards the end of last year, but when I put it to him that he should run for Mosely’s job he said, “I’ve been asked on several occasions to and go up for election but I’ve never said I would do it.”

    Here’s the piece:

    Auto Trader: Jackie Stewart: ‘Hamilton should have won’ (external)

  8. Having just finished Sir Jackie’s excellent autobiography (my best Christmas present – sorry family members), I’m not sure he’s got the time for a position on the FIA. Especially when most men his age are enjoying retirement.

    Damon may have more time on his hands when, sadly, Mr E strikes Silverstone off the calendar.

    I seem to be a bad omen for F1 drivers. I’ve met Christian Klien and Scott Speed – both of whom lost their seats not long after.


    Today it is reported that JYS has called Max a part time amateur who should resign or be fired. The beauty of it is that he is factually accurate so Max can’t sue but will no doubt feel compelled to respond by saying something stupid and probably libellous. The headline writers of the world will no doubt have part time amateur in big letters which will wind Max up.

    I have wanted Jackie to have that job before even Max had it but I can’t see it happening now. I have also just finished his book and one little snippet in it which I didn’t know was that the first driver he tried to sign for Stewart GP was Damon. Bear in mind also that Jackie’s first F1 team mate in 1965 was Graham Hill and I think you can see who Damon would turn to for advice when he needed it. The pro-Max faction would never vote for Stewart but they might vote for Hill albeit that his views are very similar to Stewart’s.

    I wonder if this is Jackie starting to wind Max up to generate evidence for a court case and/or to provoke a coup.

  10. “But he insists he’s not after Mosley’s job: “I’ve been asked on several occasions to and go up for election but I’ve never said I would do it.”

    Having just read the Autotrader article JYS’s reply is what Woodward and Bernstein used to call a non-denial denial when they were investigating Watergate. ‘I’ve never said I would do it’ is a long way from ‘I won’t do it’. I wonder.

  11. I’ve met Takuma Sato, both at last year’s Autosport. He didn’t confound any of my expectations, but since my expectations were that he was a bright, engaging, enthusiastic young man, that was just fine. He looked like he’d have been happy signing stuff all day, but when he got interviewed later on, he was witty and equally happy.

  12. Unfortunately i haven’t met any current F1 drivers – but as far as Jackie for president – has a familiar ring too it?? – 10 years or so ago would have been a good time for him to give his best to the job – but as for Damon – definetly a good candidate – but is that just from a british perspective? – Iwould love to see him in the job as he has had the driving experience – where’s Max’s – apart from driving us round the bend? – also Damon has a good idea on both organisational the drivers sides

  13. I was lucky to meet quite a few of them. Kimi, Hamilton, Massa, Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Button, Barrichello, Vettel, Liuzzi, Kovalainen, Davidson, Wurz

    Kimi is definitelly a guy you want to meet when he is at his best casual self. Sharing a bottle of vodka with that guy will remain the highlight of my F1 experiences forever :-)

    hamilton is a good DJ …

  14. Owing to some shameless groupie behaviour (and a lot of persistance) Mr Pink & I managed to get all 22 drivers autographs at the Melbourne GP last year, as well as a few other big names such as Sir Jackie, Sir Stirling & Sir Jack Brabham.

    Some drivers we managed to have a chat to, others just signed & ran – although to be fair they were under seige to sign as many autographs as possible.

    I would have to say that I thought that Sato, Ralf Schumacher, Button, Hamilton, Vettel, Rosberg & Webber were the nicest drivers – all gave plenty of time to the fans and acted as though it was a pleasure to be signing autographs. They also managed a joke & a laugh and Ralf even gave someone his hat. Others gave the impression they were doing only because they had to (I won’t name any names ;) ).

    I had previously met Alonso back in 2005 & thought he was really nice then – this time he didn’t seem as friendly. Although he was probably under a lot less pressure back then ! Conversley, I had met Sir Jackie back in about 1996 in a non race related setting and was not very impressed. I liked him much more the second time around – but then whose to say I didn’t just catch him on a bad day initially?

    In regards to replacing Max (God, will we ever see that day – fingers crossed) I think either Damon Hill or Alex Wurz would be great candidates. I also like the idea of Sir Jackie, but he is getting on a bit and I couldn’t blame him if he wasn’t prepared for that sort of commitment.

  15. AmericanTifosi
    18th January 2008, 3:46

    Damon Hill for president! You guys are so lucky. I’ve never even been to a race.

  16. Steven Roy Says: I wonder if this is Jackie starting to wind Max up to generate evidence for a court case and/or to provoke a coup.

    *rubbing hands together with glee*

  17. The old saying like father like son whilst I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Damon. I met his dad on three occasions at ford club ( defunct these many years) he was my hero and proved to be fantastic company, just the sort to have a night out with. I remember coming home at midnight and hearing a news flash that he had died in a plane crash I cried like I had lost one of my parents

  18. I met Fernando in Oviedo. He was very kind, had the chance to take photos with him and had a little chat. Can’t really understand why most of the people thinks he is rude, he is just shy, definitively a nice guy. So Vertigo, don’t understand your statement…

  19. Jackie Stewart is 68 years old. Now while he is certainly in very good health, I’m not sure he would be able to commit to the job. The post of FIA president is now limited to two four-year terms, but even if the Scot did just one term, he would be nearing is mid-seventies a tthe end of the term (elections are in 2009). And really, what can you achieve in four years? You need eight to have any kind of impact. For the record, Mosley is one year younger than Stewart.

    Jackie would have been great as the FIA president ten years ago, and the sport would have been better off for it. But I’m afraid I feel he is too old now; he relinquished his BRDC post after all.

  20. “alan Says:

    I would love to see him in the job as he has had the driving experience – where’s Max’s -”

    Max did a bit of racing and made it as far as F2. His first F2 race was at Hockenheim in the race Jimmmy Clark got killed. Max’s family had been against him racing but he persuaded them that he knew what he was doing and wasn’t taking any stupid risks. After Clark died Max’s family asked him if Jimmy knew what he was doing and was he taking stupid risks. Even Max couldn’t lie that much so he had to give in and stop racing.

    “Ollie Says:

    And really, what can you achieve in four years? You need eight to have any kind of impact.”

    I am sure Jackie could re-structure the FIA and put in proper procedures etc in 4 years. Besides 20 years ago people were asking him how long he could go on at the rate he did and he is still doing it. I have visions of someone sticking a microphone in front of a 120 year old JYS and asking him how long he can keep the pace up.

  21. I’ve met and chatted with Jackie Stewart, Derek Bell, Stirling Moss, John Surtess, Colin Chapman, Mario Andretti, all were superb even to a lowly serf like me, Bell and Andretti were particularly personalble but one name that EQUALED those greats and never made it big was Antonio Pizzonia!

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