There is one reason above all others why I’ll never be a Formula One driver. There are a number of other limiting factors at play, mind, such as having no money and possessing little talent, but even if I had those I would still be missing the one key thing that is fundamental to the make-up of any successful competition driver. A racing dad.
As this is intended as a somewhat flippant piece, before proceeding any further I should make it clear that I do actually have a father, one who has made a huge and valuable contribution to my life at that. He’s taught me to paint walls, clean gutters and support a provincial football team. He has lectured me about the importance of hard work, stoicism and skepticism. The last piece of advice he gave me before leaving me to my own devices in my first flat at university was to wrap cheese up in cling film before putting it back in the fridge. It’s just that, if I ever were to become a grand prix pilot, he would be an utterly useless F1 Dad*.
At the early stages of a racing driver’s career, The Dad plays a vital role. He is simultaneously the operation’s title sponsor, team principal, chief mechanic, race engineer, physiotherapist and logistics manager. In other words, he buys the go-kart for his kid, maintains it and ferries his offspring up and down the country in the faint hope he will one day see a return on his investment. As the kid moves up the motor sport career ladder, more and more professionals come in (at great expense) to do the jobs The Dad previously did. A motor sport preparation outfit will look after the car, a dietician, trainer and sports psychologist will be brought in, and there will most likely be some media person doing all the press releases and website maintenance. As the driver is probably only sixteen or seventeen by this time, though, The Dad will still have to accompany the driver everywhere.
And then it gets weird. Should the aforementioned child prodigy make it to Formula One, the Holy Grail of motor sport, they will most likely be placed on a lucrative contract. They will be flown around the world first-class, put up in fancy hotels and fed the best of food. They will be treated like a prized race horse, every breath, sneeze and fart analysed by a medical team that would put the cast of ER to shame. They will, in short, be handled in the manner to which Princes Harry and William are accustomed. And yet The Dad still has to come along.
During a grand prix, the job of The Dad is to stand in the pits, lanyard dangling round his neck as he looks pensively at the timing screens. If the driver has a girlfriend, The Dad must at all times stand next to her and point out blatantly obvious things such as stacks of tyres and folding metal chairs. He must celebrate every successful overtaking maneuver and speedy pitstop with great gusto lest the television cameras be watching. There is probably a great psychology PhD just waiting to be done on why grown men still need their dads at the trackside when they race; or, conversely, why grown men still need to be at the trackside to watch their sons race even when they’re old enough to legally drink in Texas.
My dad wouldn’t even get past the buying the go-kart stage, preferring to invest his spare cash in some John Bellany etchings (stop reading, go and Google John Bellany then come back). If he did choose to invest in karting, then he certainly wouldn’t be able to run the thing, for my father couldn’t give two hoots about cars. Just like the family’s road-going vehicles that are run until they disintegrate, maintenance of any kart I might have had as a kid would be passed on to Kenny, a salt-of-the-earth engineer from Inverness who does a terrific job of keeping cars on the road at a reasonable price. There would be no drives down to Brands Hatch to do an important event, either. Knockhill in Fife is as far as faither could do at the wheel of a van, stopping only for a pee at House of Bruar on the way there and back.
Should I by some miracle make it into Formula One, then there would be no chance of my dad cheering me on in qualifying. Qualifying takes place on a Saturday afternoon, and Saturday afternoon is when Raith Rovers play. Thankfully, he could keep in touch with my progress via the big screens showing Sky Sports News in the Novar Bar, but god forbid I make it to Q3 because that would mean he wouldn’t have time to buy a 50-50 draw ticket on the way into the ground before kick-off.
Raceday wouldn’t be much better. Whilst the Alan Webbers, John Buttons and Luiz Antonio Massas of this world spend the entire weekend in the paddock, breaking their glare at the timing screens only to collar mechanics and demand to know why their boy isn’t winning, Mr Mabon would more than likely be out of the circuit as soon as he’d finished breakfast. Circuit de Catalunya? Off into Barcelona to look at Gaudi’s architecture. Monza? Just going to hop on the bus to Milan to check out some Titians. Silverstone? Going to take the train and see an exhibition of L.S.Lowry’s industrial landscapes, text me if you retire early and I’ll let you know where I am.
On rare occasions when he did stay within the confines of the circuit, my dad would most likely be seen making marks in a small notebook with a 2B pencil. Closer analysis of this notebook would reveal not loggings of lap times or thoughts on tyre pressures, but instead sketches of figures leaning against tyres, pit crew members dozing in chairs or Tifosi leaning against a wall with the yachts of Monaco in the background.
I apologise if this reads like I’m taking the piss out of my dad. That’s not the point at all. I’m just trying to illustrate the healthy difference in interests that exists between me and my father, something that seems to be alarmingly lacking from a number of Formula One father-and-son relationships. My dad, in his own words, couldn’t give ‘a flying monkey’s’ (no, I don’t know what that means either) if for some reason I made it as a grand prix driver. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t support me, just that he wouldn’t be pacing around anxiously in the garage every time I got in the car. It would be very interesting to get inside the minds of some of the fathers and sons in Formula One, and even more interesting to see what might happen if dads were banned from the paddock for a race weekend…
*(you’ll notice I refer exclusively to the male parent here. I am aware that I am doing this, and it is not my intention to reinforce gender stereotypes. The simple reason for doing this is that I have never seen an F1 Mum trackside for any prolonged period of time, apart from the weekend in 2002 when Bernie Ecclestone made a point of getting the drivers to invite their mothers to the race).