The Season Ahead (and more importantly, the years ahead)

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My New Year’s (very late) resolution….I promise myself to get back to blogging…. so with that in mind;

With less than 30 days to go before the first Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne, Australia we must wait with baited breath to see if Ferrari’s changes have made the difference to overcome more recent seasons disappointments, will the new McLaren Honda partnership bring back the glories of the past when in 1988 we totally dominated 15 out of 16 races and will the sport finally see sense and embrace social media in a way that benefits everyone from fans to sponsors alike?

If the image above is anything to go by, we are most definitely moving in the right direction to ensure every season is truly incredible, but more of that later.

So, back to my ‘futures soapbox’….In the early 90′s when the web came bursting forth, it was vastly misunderstood.  Band widths were poor, sites crude and images took ages to load and hey ho in the midst of this new techno revolution, no-one really had the understanding of how to make money from this latest of high tech platforms.

Looking back now that is hard to believe really.  Companies such as Amazon have had such an amazing commercial impact upon our lives and the internet trading platform is here to stay in so many forms let alone its impact as a knowledge resource and communications medium.

I personally believe the time is absolutely right for F1 to embrace social media like never before – it simply does not matter that at the moment it does not have a commercial standing that enables it to write teams or race organisers large cheques….simply give it the chance to become more involved with the sport and progress and time will do the rest.

10 years from now if not much sooner, social media and the new breed of smart young businessmen and women will have worked out how to commercialise ‘it’ and we will look back amazed that we did not create partnership in the current times that would have and most certainly will create revenue streams for the teams and the sport and business of Formula 1 motor racing.  There is nothing like investing at the early stages and frankly a number of teams have space on their cars that could be used to create longer term commercial relationships.

Now back to that amazing concept drawing issued by Ferrari last week – WOW!  This really does take the sport to a new level in terms of image and I hope beyond hope that the powers that be see into the future and realise what this image could bring to the sport…congratulations to the Ferrari design studio team.

Combine this with an active commercialised social platform, designs from this that echo road car products and add 1000 BHP and frankly the rest will be legendary.

Back to the present. In just a few weeks we will see the field role out at Melbourne.  I really hope it will include the Marussia Team.  Had we not had fledgling Jordan, Williams and Tyrrell Teams in the early days to name but a few, we would not have our current World Championships which we all love so please see sense and assist these guys with their efforts to be on the grid.

Whatever Melbourne brings in terms of winners and losers, and I will be lucky enough to be there to see the outcome in person, let us all hope much time is spent discussing the future and how to ensure that we can enjoy the sport we all love to the full without getting bogged down in miniscule technical details.

If there is to be a time of change, let the change be great and let it be undertaken with a thought to the long term health of the business overall and how it can integrate with our rapidly changing commercial platforms.

As to that Ferrari and the Prancing Horse inviting comments from it’s fans….YES PLEASE!

Counting One’s Blessings….

What a fantastic motor sport event yesterday’s Hungarian Grand Prix was.  It was all there: drama, tension, skill, daring and raw talent.  Ricciardo’s move to take the lead just laps from the end was truly ‘Sennaesk’ as F1 Racing Magazines Anthony Rowlinson said on Twitter last evening, and I have to agree with him.

Ayrton had an ability that is world renowned for not taking prisoners on a quick lap, when challenging for the lead or fighting through the field and we saw that yesterday from the young Aussie as he simply muscled his way into the lead.  It was a breathtaking move and showed skill beyond levels seldom seen.  As BBC TV commentator David Coulthard said “that was a move from a future world champion”.

So where does that leave Formula 1 after yet another blinding weekend of racing?  The ongoing talk of GP crowd attendances, new venues, dropping older and more historic ones in favour of those that are new and more commercially lucrative rumbles on.  Frankly, I feel these things are continually reported and debated out of the need for mountains of copy for the endless newspapers, magazines, internet sites et al that cover this fantastic sport.  We should recognise what we have and that to me is a superb 2014 World Championship season.

It was not so long ago that the teams left the powers that be to negotiate the venues unopposed  - we all simply turned up and raced but seldom were the venues subject to endless public debate -clearly today they are for we live in a changed world.

Whilst Christian Horner’s stern words at the press conference last Friday www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/115142  echoed the fact that he believes the teams are there to race, I personally feel they (the teams) also have to discuss and debate the moral standpoints of racing in certain countries and locations in what is currently a very political and unstable world.  It may be me, but in the world in which we all live today, I do not believe that any sport can simply divorce itself from politics and human rights issues.

What is clear however in amongst all of the ramblings this year over engine noise, crowd attendances and venues is that Formula 1 Motor Racing is still of the most exciting sports on earth and everyone associated with yesterday’s race in Hungary should be rightfully proud of putting on such a great show.

I was always reminded during my automotive apprenticeship years that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I believe that to be true of the current F1 ‘show’.  Clearly there are long term issues to be considered, the distribution of monies to the teams, future technical regulations etc, but those things are their business and should be debated and negotiated behind closed doors.

If there is to be a meaningful role for a ‘popularity working group’ it should be to engage with social media, engage with F1′s fans and debate with global businesses as to what they would like to see within the sport in order to attract them to invest in it. Whilst some in F1 may turn up their noses at the NASCAR model, it sure as hell brings in the fans AND as a result the corporate spenders and that is where the real focus of any group should be for the raw material of F1 is cash.  I also believe that working group should involve all teams, not just a select few as clearly the financial requirements of all of the teams need to be taken into consideration and the ‘popularity’ of F1 is what will drive the dollars inwards.

In the meantime, we should indeed ‘Count our blessings’ for having such fantastic F1 World Championships for Teams and Drivers alike.

A Day Of Reflection…

Normally my blogs are long and if anything over detailed.  Today’s is not.  Today is a day for reflecting upon Sunday May 1st 1994 and the entire events of that weekend.  It is going to be a quiet day, spent in my home remembering Ayrton and Roland and their lives that made lasting impressions on all who knew them and the millions upon millions who followed them through their chosen sport…..May they both rest in peace.

Ayrton Senna talking through the first half of the Imola Circuit

Ayrton talks his way around Imola, watched over by Damon (Hill) left and me on the right in front of around 40 Rothmans Williams Renault Guests on Sunday May 1st 1994 at around mid-day.  Photo: Gerard Saunal.

Remembering Ayrton 20 Years On…

 

April 2014 cover

Some weeks ago, before setting off on a three week business trip to Australia, I spoke at length with Anthony Rowlinson of F1 Racing Magazine.  Almost a year ago we had exchanged emails over the materials in my possession in relation to Ayrton and the interview I undertook with him and Damon Hill in the Imola Paddock Club on Sunday morning at the San Marino GP on May 1st 1994.  We spoke of my total admiration for Senna, my feelings of loss that still pervades my thoughts to this day and how we should present this material if the opportunity arose.

All credit to Anthony, he waited until this year, with 2014 marking the 20th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest, if not the greatest Grand Prix Driver of modern times to discuss the interview that is in the latest April issue of F1 Racing.

In latter years in my role as a motivational speaker and business coach, I have often been asked, ‘so who was/is the greatest driver of all time’… Fangio? Moss? Lauda or Prost? Senna or Schumacher or Clark or Rindt?  I  know not…

What I do know is that from working with eight World Champion Drivers in my full time F1 career, I would not know where to start in giving a meaningful answer as each that I have known has their skills, good and bad points and outstanding characteristics. They do have one thing in common though, they were all great fun to work with.

What I do know from my work with Ayrton Senna in our roles as McLaren and Williams employees, is that he was without doubt the most charismatic, focussed, intense, competitive and compassionate human being I have ever known and to me that matters above all else. His charm and total commitment to his art was infectious and without doubt he always got the very best out of everyone that worked with him.

In my meeting with F1 Racing’s journalist James Roberts, we spent almost two days together pouring over photographs, personal notes, my diaries and pictures and watching that 9 minute grainy video from Imola. Over dinner we were in total accord that Ayrton is still regarded as a huge influence on the sport of Formula 1 motor racing and some 20 years after his death, still regarded as someone incredibly special.

As I once told journalist, the late Christopher Hilton, the lucky people get the chance to work with pure genius once in their career.  I had that opportunity twice with Ayrton at both McLaren and Williams and for that I shall always be so grateful.

I hope you enjoy the article and interview in F1 Racing.  Some memories are stronger than ever, some have faded over 20 years, but I have tried very hard to reflect that weekend, my feelings and my emotions in it and I trust I have been as honest as it is possible to be.  If I have left anything out I apologise and to the very best of my knowledge I have been as accurate as possible and tried to reflect the comments and actions of others faithfully.

Ayrton, I still miss you, we all miss you, your teams and your friends, your family, everyone you touched in your life misses you and most of all, your fans miss you and of course, your beloved Brazil misses you.

Rest in Peace.

Special Note:

My sincere thanks go to Bernie Ecclestone for allowing me to use the actual text taken from the video for the interview – it is greatly appreciated to be able to put Ayrton’s words into the public domain after so long.

My thanks also to Gerard Saunal for allowing his pictures of me with Ayrton and Damon to be used.

The Future of Formula 1 And The Importance of Sponsors, Not Widgets!

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With a long haul trip in November taking up much of my month and the inevitable December wind down in business due to the ever increasing commercial nature of Christmas/New Year and the lengthy breaks people now take, I should have used my time wisely and blogged more!  I have however been remiss in compiling my blog as I too ‘slowed down’ for the recess and for that dear readers, I am sorry! – Must try harder West 3/10! Ah, those were the days…

So to business:  There is much being written at the moment as to the future of Formula 1, the alleged health or otherwise of the smaller teams and should the top teams be allocated three cars each thereby spelling out the death blow for those teams at the back of the grid.  For sure, an extra car per top team would look fantastic but has not Formula 1 motor racing always been about the betterment of team and driver and the commercial abilities of the teams to raise the funds to develop and compete at the highest levels? Check out the history of some of our now famous teams: Williams before Frank and Patrick came together, Red Bull Racing when previously it was known as Jaguar, the period in the doldrums for Ferrari prior to Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn’s arrival with Jean Todt in the 90′s….think what we would have missed out on if we had given their entries to the dominant teams of the day?

Clearly the continued dominance of Red Bull Racing and the fourth consecutive World Drivers’ Championship title for the amazing Seb Vettel leads some people to talk of ‘boring racing’ but that accusation has been levied across the years when the likes of McLaren, Williams, Ferrari et al have enjoyed extended periods of success.  Teams spend many years building up their commercial and technical packages to reach these heights, so why when witnessing such an amazing run by a particular organisation do we then hear so many cries of ‘boring’…? I’ve never heard a Chelsea or a Man United fan talking of their success as boring….

Formula 1 is an extremely complex business but it is one that in my humble opinion has become too technical with an ever increasing set of restrictive regulations which in the latter case has recently been commented upon by design legend Adrian Newey in the press – he thinks being too restrictive is a bad thing…  I too firmly believe that too much regulation stifles creativity as does adding ‘false’ performance or purely ‘entertainment enhancing ideas’.  I agree totally with technical genius and former Mercedes team boss Ross Brawn when he said that mandatory pit stops were wrong for the sport in 2014 – thankfully they have been rejected.  However, technical freedom and technology costs money, but more of that later!

Whilst I am on my soap box, I also think that talk of ‘DRS zones’, ‘not getting the tyres working’ and ‘not being on the bubble’ (whatever that means) and other such issues frequently talked about on TV, whilst great for the purists, are confusing and irrelevant to the average punter who turns on his or her TV set to watch a Grand Prix on a Sunday.  The latter people turn on for entertainment, thrills and close racing…

In my role as a speaker today, it is well known that I use my historical experience from Formula 1 racing and my subsequent books and BBC World TV work to illustrate leaderships, teamwork and change issues, however when I ask my audiences “who in the room follows Formula 1?” the normal percentage is about 20% to 25% of people present.  Based on this I spend the first 10 minutes or so ‘framing’ the sport and the business of Formula 1 for them in order to make the rest of my materials relevant, however when it comes to Q&A’s at the end of my sessions I am very seldom asked about ‘grip’, ‘turn in’, ‘downforce’ or ‘DRS zones’…the questions tend to be: “Why are Red Bull so good at the moment?”  ”What was Ayrton Senna really like as a person?”  ”Can the pit stops really get any faster?” and “Is Bernie as tough as he is reputed to be?”

My point is that for the Formula 1 teams to really prosper again commercially, it is essential that the continual technical arguments, the searching for fractions of seconds at mega costs and the alleged salary levels of some senior staff as just a few examples are pushed behind the scenes into in-house team/s debate and that all areas of expenditure HAVE to come under better control by the teams themselves, for what the viewing and attending public, and of course the sports sponsors and investors want  is racing, not politics – goodness knows there is enough of that from other quarters on TV every day!

Creating a controlling ‘cost cap’ cannot in my view be enforced, as the motor manufacturers with their ability to undertake R&D and other tasks outside of any ‘declared’ budget for team purposes would be impossible to police.  Anyway, who has ever heard of a commercial, profit & loss making business being ‘capped’ as to what it spends and earns….? Formula 1 Teams are businesses and they need to be able to work as such without restriction…

What IS required  is yet further expansion of the ways in which Formula 1 racing as a sport and a business can impact on people’s lives and on the emerging economies with their tens of millions of new blossoming consumers.  In journalist Joe Saward’s recent blog he talks of Sony possibly partnering McLaren as a new sponsor in 2014.  It makes great sense as in 1993 I brought SEGA to Williams as a sponsor and although only a one year deal and admittedly a long time ago, under the guidance of then senior SEGA Directors, the brand’s involvement in F1 brought new ideas, much fun and therefore new audiences to the sport at the time.  That additional coverage, alongside great on track success with Alain Prost and Damon Hill, enabled us to attract the Rothmans monies and ultimately Ayrton Senna to the team for 1994.  It also brought a bigger youth audience to F1 which today is huge thanks to online and computer gaming…

What is the relevance of this, my latest rambling?  Simply that the real need is for MONEY and not constant technical regulation review!  Any business needs cash and therefore to earn cash one needs consumers and investors (sponsors).  Within the ever changing face of F1 and in order to keep pace with global trends we have now new inputs to the sport such as the start of the new 2014 turbo engine era, less fuel usage, the ongoing tyre challenges and ever faster pit stops and technical processes, but in these challenging times, let’s all spend some time on the subject of ‘revenue generation’ as opposed to constantly discussing technology.  The President of Ferrari recently spoke great sense in this article in Autosport magazine http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/112011

His words and thoughts make worthwhile reading…

As we approach another season of the greatest form of motor racing on this planet, the focus for Formula 1 should be on sponsorship investment, for with the money the technology can surely follow.

Personally I would bring back the spectacle of having every driver out in the same qualifying session, unlimited quali tyres and the Sunday morning half hour warm up, but I am bound to say that as I am an 80′s and 90′s F1 child….Mansell, Senna, Prost and Piquet battling for pole – Bring it on!

On a final and sadder note, one of the most likable characters from Formula 1 in the 1980′s passed away on Boxing Day 2013 – He had been fighting cancer for a number of months.  Ben Horne loved his motor racing and he loved his time with Project 4 Racing and The McLaren International Team.  I understand he joined Ron Dennis’s Project 4 racing team which then in the early 80′s morphed into McLaren International under Ron’s guidance and it was in 1984 whilst still working for Williams, that Ben approached me on a flight bound for Detroit en route to the Grand Prix and told me Ron was looking for a new sponsorship co-ordinator.  Ben set me up an interview with Ron on the Saturday afternoon post qualifying and shortly afterwards, I proudly joined McLaren. I have much to thank Ben for…

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Ben was a special person in Formula 1 – everyone knew him – everyone loved him.  He had many roles in the team including pit board man, sticker man, paint shop assistant, a friend to everyone and a guy who always raised a smile – I never heard him say a bad or disparaging thing about anyone, his glass was always half full.  Ben was present at the McLaren 50th reunion I organised with Matthew Jeffreys in September of last year, an event which I was also honored to host.  Ben was one of the stage guests and as ever he thrilled the audience with his humor, wit and genuine charm…his funny emails continued to me until December 22nd and he visited Matthew and Sue Jeffrey’s house for a drink on Christmas Eve and now, suddenly he is gone…

Ben we will all miss you, McLaren’s Old Boys and Girls will miss you, Formula 1 will miss you…RIP Ben Horne.

The Importance Of Plan-Do-Review And Taking The Time To Relax And Reflect

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Busy lives are great things and as one of the fortunate people who’s days are always full, be it through work, social or home life, I count my blessings on a regular basis.

However when considering the actual number of days we receive on this planet as human beings, which amounts to 25,550 of them if the biblical ‘three score years and ten’ (70 years) is applied, (which in reality could be more, or far worse, it could be less!…) then it is very important that we take time to relax in the company of business colleagues, family and friends and reflect upon our achievements to date.  I believe it is very important to look to the future and how best we can utilize our lifetimes work and play in order to achieve better things in the days still to come.

I am fortunate that through my work I ‘see inside’ many businesses and organisations on a regular basis and in doing so meet a great many achievers and aspiring people. What I also frequently see are very ‘busy’ people, many of them ‘too busy’ at times and as a result, they do not seem to take the time to reflect on situations, actual experiences or good or bad outcomes before moving onto the next task or set of tasks.

Review and reflection is a hugely important part of our lives and it cannot take place effectively whilst under pressure.  Clearly certain decisions do have to be taken under pressure, however when having done so, do we then take the time to review those events for the betterment of future planning?

Within the simplistic cycle of Plan-Do-Review, as busy people we spend most of our lives in the Do, that is an undeniable fact.

* Usually there is a Plan, although sadly sometimes not always a good one due to lack of preparation and suitable inputs, so like eager students failing to read the exam paper before putting ink to paper, we frequently rush headlong into the Do.  Please think about the Plan…Have we got the right people in on the early stages? Have we taken account of everything we are likely to encounter, good or bad? Have we spent time discussing everyone’s view and inputs to the project? Have we got the money required?  Importantly, have we set the final plan to one side for an hour or so or even a day to enable us to take a fresh look at it before entering the Do?

* Do – this is in reality where we spend most of our time; Doing stuff!  Are we now using our time efficiently? Are we frequently reviewing where we are in the process? Is our ‘anchor person’ keeping us to the budget and to the timeline?  Make sure there are accurate records of what is being done for future reference enabling us to learn from our experiences!  Make notes, keep minutes, drawings, sketches even doodles – if they relate to the Do – keep them.

* The Review. As one top lawyer said to me after a successful outcome to a merger his firm had presided over which also resulted in many hundreds of hours of lucrative fee billing, ‘I don’t really know why we got such great feedback from the client…we’ve not made time to discuss it yet and we are already onto the next piece of business’.….a crying shame really because they could have used those positive experiences, comments and reasons for achieving yet more success in the next planned piece of business!  When it comes to Review…Make time!

Review is a critical part of so much in life as it enables us to understand why we were successful in business, why we failed to get the deal, why our holiday did to live up to our expectations and why our latest home project was so successful and that bottle of wine we found on the shelf that had been there so long , why was it so good?…

As was quoted to us when authoring ‘Performance at the Limit – Business Lessons from Formula 1 Motor Racing’, ‘When the race has been won and the champagne drunk, we spend an hour and a half in the garage discussing what went wrong’…This quote is specifically about the need to respect the REVIEW PROCESS and the importance of making it timely in order that the next Plan can carry the benefits of success forwards and avoid any mistakes – it is in truth, about ensuring Continuous Improvement, such an important thing in business.

Making time immediately after ‘the event’ makes sure that we all focus on the why’s, what’s and the reasons for particular successes, failures or outcomes and it is only at the time of download, close to the actual event or happening that we get the facts down as they were and not as ‘how we think we remember them’  hours, days or heaven help us, weeks later.

This brings me therefore to my point about taking time to relax and reflect.  Following on from the review, take time to relax and reflect body and mind.  This can be done privately or in a group, at work, at home or in social company.  The importance of this is that we see things very differently when relaxed.  Our body chemistry is different, our tolerance levels more balanced and our understanding of a given situation more realistic.

Whether a work or a personal situation, taking even just a few minutes to relax and reflect can have a very positive impact.  There are very few situations in life where a short break to relax and reflect cannot be taken.  The effects are almost always beneficial to the person making the decision and just as importantly, those around him or her who are looking for well considered responses to their actions.

Plan-Do-Review and Relax and Reflect – you know it makes sense…

 

 

 

That Was The Week That Was…

Bruce

‘That Was The Week That Was’ was the title of an early 60′s BBC television satirical comedy show produced and directed by Ned Sherrin and David Frost (as sadly, the recently departed David was then, pre Knighthood), and I could not help use the title to describe events of my own past week as it seemed so apt, for I don’t think I remember a week such as this….

Despite a nightmare Saturday thanks to my Navara breaking down and awaiting rescue for some three hours on the approach to the M11 motorway en route to East Anglia, Sunday dawned bright in the knowledge that I was going to spend my day with my eldest Son Kristian in Henley and enjoy a local pub produced roast lunch.  We don’t catch up often enough so the day was spent talking about his work in motorsport engineering and my forthcoming two events that coming week.

The first event entailed an early Monday morning trip to Dublin and then onto a fantastic country hotel (Carton House) some 40 minutes from the airport, (and as a venue which I cannot recommend highly enough)  where I was to deliver a 40 minute keynote address followed by a 90 minute interactive audience session on lessons in business, taken from my work in Formula 1 motor racing.

My client Primark had gone to great lengths in briefing me for my closing session on Monday 9th which was to include me joining them for dinner.  Primark is a great success story and I found the people I worked with in my session to be focussed, enthusiastic and greatly motivated by the challenge of meeting their customers expectations – they were huge fun to be with too!

Thankfully, my session was very well received and despite not getting to bed until mid-night I was elated knowing that I was heading straight into the McLaren 50th Reunion Anniversary gathering of the Old Boys and Girls Association held in association with The Bruce McLaren Trust at the Hilton Hotel in Arundel, close to the Goodwood Racing Circuit.

A very early start saw me checked in on the BA flight at Dublin Airport and back to the UK in time to collect my wife from LHR’s T5 whence we headed straight for the McLaren reunion hotel.  As soon as we arrived I met with my fellow organiser and reunion event founder Matthew Jeffreys.  Matthew was a Chassis Design Engineer at McLaren between 1979 and 2005 and I held the position of Sponsorship Co-ordinator between 1984 and 1988, so we share the same kindred passion about the ‘red and whites’ as we often call the team.

Both huge McLaren fans to this day and immensely proud of our respective times with the team, Matthew started a meeting group of ‘The McLaren Old Boys and Girls’ some four years ago and in which I became involved as compere at last year’s event held at Brooklands. This year we worked very closely together as fellow organisers.  Matthew as the event founder is hugely enthusiastic about this gathering year on year, and this being the 50th anniversary of McLaren meant we both had to pull something special out of the bag as we had 240 plus places to fill and wanted to make this event something the attendees would remember for a lifetime.

I make no apologies for this being my longest ever blog.  As the event unfolded over the two days it exceeded our wildest hopes and aspirations.  It was something very special and below are a range of photographs of the event to compliment the narative.  To all of those who contributed, attended, provided historic pictures and annecdotes and for the support we received from suppliers, friends and family, we cannot thank you enough.  Matthew and I hope you enjoy this look into what was a truly unique day and evening for us all.

Whilst we had visited the venue some months previously and in recent weeks spoken on a daily basis about the event, Wednesday morning the 11th September dawned bright and early for us despite the autumn clouds.  The first cars to arrive were provided by Roger Wills and friends and Andrea Burani who loaned us his ex James Hunt M23.

Family Jeffreys

The opportunity to get the family group shot proved too much to resist and here left to right are Matthew’s daughter Emily, Wife Sue, Matthew himself and Son Alex.  The car is a huge credit to Andrea and we are indebted to him for making the effort to loan it to us. We also took plenty of pictures with the Senna/Prost MP4/4 but more of that later…

Whilst this iconic racing car was being photographed by many of the guests who were began arriving from 09.30 that morning, a further range of wonderful McLaren history was being unloaded onto the lawns of the venue such as those shown below.

Other McLarens

(Left to right in the below picture) Matthew’s wife Sue and my own wife, Denise manned the Welcome Desk on the front reception handing out name badges, welcome letters and generally chatting to guests as they arrived thick and fast for a day of reunion.  Seeing so many people from the 60′s through to the current day was an emotional experience and at times it was hard to focus on conversations as mates old and new continually re-introduced themselves.

The Girls on the welcome desk

Throughout the morning and the day, the arrivals kept coming, Howard Moore – James Hunt’s Chief Mechanic in 1976, Tom and Freddie Hunt (James’s Sons), Alastair Caldwell the 76′ Team Manager, guys from CanAm, Indycar, the current McLaren organisation such as Hertitage Collection Manager Indy Lall and veteran spray shop manager, George Langhorn.

The arrivals went on and on and included former McLaren Driver Jochen Mass, 1981 British Grand Prix Winner John Watson, 88′ and 89′ McLaren Test Driver and FIVE TIMES Le Mans endurance winner, Emanuele Pirro. Neil Trundle (pictured below), Wally Willmott who was Bruce McLaren’s first ever employee, legends Tyler Alexander and Jo Ramirez: Even good friend and world renowned designer and technical director John Barnard and the lovely Rosie Barnard turned up…this really was worthy of a one off TV programme in hindsight!

neil

As all of this was going on, the dining room was in chaos for the evening event.  Not ony were the AV crew fighting with the backdrops due to incorrect dimensions for the room being provided to them by the hotel, but in the middle of it arrived a racing car that to all of us involved with it, sends shocks of plasure down our necks each time we see it…I refer of course to the MP4/4, (chassis number1) which as Steve Nichols design, won 15 out of 16 races in the 1988 season in the hands of two legendary drivers, Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

Matthew and I and a great many people present besides, were part of the Marlboro McLaren Honda Team in that incredible year and to have chassis number 1 in our midst, a fully running car at that, courtesy of McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh made us very pround indeed. We all owe Martin a huge thank you for this…  The big challenge was to make sure that no-one was aware that it was on site and therefore it was quickly unloaded and placed amongst the packing cases and the AV crew from Multimedia Plus of Henley on Thames who were still construcing the entire backdrop and set despite the last minute challenges!  Nervous? Who us?….

(Below) The MP4/4 sits silently on it’s travel wheels awaiting it’s Goodyear race wheels and tyres amidst the set build!

McLaren Reunion 020

Whilst all of this was going on and in between checking out that the AV crew, film crew and photographers were fine and fed, the guests were happy and the day was on time, Matthew and I continued to circulate the hotel meeting friends, colleagues and special guests.  In between I found time to interview a number of VIP’s and those who had been central to McLaren’s successes over the years for use in the forthcoming video, so there was not much time to relax.

Back in the Henty Suite, Mark Oakley of MRO F1 Engineering was displaying his amazing range of hand built 1/12th scale replica McLarens…stunning!

models cars

The picture below shows James Hunt’s Chief Mechanic Howard Moore being interviewed by me with us both sitting on James’s 1976 Championship car with Matthew, (centre) Jan McLaren (left) and my youngest Son’s girlfriend Hannah (right) in the background.

Howard

Clearly, an event of this magnitude requires recording in terms of images, moving footage, written comments from the attendees and then taking the time to edit this all together for distribution to a wider audience.  This we are in the process of doing as with so many great people present for this gathering, there will be a great many motor sport fans around the world who will want to see and hear what went on.   A film edit will be available within a couple of weeks and as for stills, the entire collection will be on this wesbite under a separate section in a similar time frame.

Moving on from Howard, I had the opportunity to chat to Jan McLaren (below). Jan is Bruce’s younger Sister and a driving force behind The Bruce McLaren Trust based on the first floor of the original McLaren garage in NZ.  Jan was attending with a party of guests and former McLaren employees and indeed a few ‘friends of Bruce’ for this event, and in association with the Trust’s global travels, this gave me chance to catch up with her.

RW & Jan McLaren

Other interviews with Howden Ganley, a former GP driver himself and also the third ever employee of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing followed, as did chats with a huge number of guests over dinner, but more of that later including pictures.

Time on these events races by,  (no puns intended) however early you get up, and at 16.00hrs it was time for a rehearsal. I had spent some 70 hours putting together a presentation for the evening in terms of slides of those memorable moments from McLaren’s history and we were planning on 21 live on stage interviews and a link up over Skype and telephone with American Motor Racing legend Dan Gurney and 1974 Marlboro McLaren World Champion, Emerson Fittipaldi, so timing was everything…no pressure then!

Rehearsals went well and the room with the staging now finished, looked wonderful – the calm before the storm in reality….with the MP4/4 now positioned and the dining room set, we took a series of pictures. The one below shows the proximity of the Senna/Prost car to the audience and when turned 180 degress on the revolving stage, the second shot below it shows the stage in all of its glory.

MP4 pre dinner

The shot below shows the room, stage, especially commissioned bust of Bruce McLaren under the New Zealand flag awaiting unveiling and other staging elements to best effect – 17.35hrs and 25 minutes left to shower up, get my suit on and head for the champagne reception…Final stage set up

By now, the guests are gathering and the stories, annecdotes and the champagne are flowing…pictured below are left to right, Simon Taylor (artist) who painted four especially commissioned pictures of Robin Herd, Gordon Coppuck, John Barnard and Steve Nichols for presentation on the night.  Centre is Graham Osmond-Jones, husband of sculptor Alix Beale (right) who provided the one off bust of Bruce McLaren in the pictures and who provided the two wonderful pieces either side of the stage setting of the display of the McLaren MP4/4.

Simon Graham and Alix

Each table featured a commemorative programme, timetable and menu limited to 275 copies – the design of these and the production of all of the events support materials were courtesy of former McLaren graphic artist, Malcolm Billyard, these days with his own design business ‘Oak Design’ in Hampshire.  As an aside, whilst unable to attend, we all owe a huge thanks to Malcom for his work.  Guests also received a cast lapel pin marking this truly unique fiftieth event.

The illustrations on the programme were provided by none other than Matthew who spent a great many hours producing these amazing pictures – one off artists proofs were also provided by Matthew later in the evening as prizes for a raffle to raise funds for Cancer Research UK, The Pink Ribbon Foundation for Breast Cancer and The Bruce McLaren Trust.

(See below: Matthew’s illustrations on the event menu and programme)

dinner settings

I called the guests to dinner promptly at 19.15.  A plan to photograph everyone outside with a range of McLaren cars was thwarted when heavy rain started to fall and the decision was taken to take a group shot once all guests were seated in the dining room. (See below) A great shame as it would have been a very special shot, but I guess not everything can go to plan…

Dining room

The formalities commenced with a welcome from me as evening compere and then I handed over to Matthew to welcome Patty McLaren-Brickett (Bruce’s widow) to the stage to meet her extended family of some 242 guests.  This was clearly an emotional time for everyone and Patty went on to unveil the bust of Bruce expecially commissioned from sculptor, friend and client Alix Beale for this event.  See three pics below in order of:

I welcome the guests to our evening…

event welcome

Matthew Jeffreys with Patty…

MJ and Patty

Patty McLaren Brickett and Alix Beale unveil Bruce for the audience…

Bruce unveiling1

Matthew, yours truly and Patty seem delighted…

happy bust people

With the opening formalities taken care of, dinner service and the evening commenced (below)

Dinner

dinner 1

Once dinner was finished, a short comfort break over and with our glasses recharged, we commenced the evening with a BAFTA style reflection of those sadly no longer with us and Tyler Alexander proposed the toast to ‘Present Company and Absent Friends’ – this was widely applauded by all.

Next came apologies for absence from Patrick Tambay (with a confession of why he crashed three cars in one weekend!), Mark Blundell and David Coulthard whilst Alain Prost sent heartfelt apologies for not being present due to being held on business at the Frankfurt Motor Show as did Bernie Ecclestone who due to business commitments could not make the evening.

A series of interviews then followed with a ‘who’s who’ of McLaren history, staff, drivers and sponsors…the audience seemed to love it! (below)

Applause

Bruce’s first ever employee, Wally Willmott who said despite being paid only a few pounds a week,  he never told Bruce he would have worked for free! (below)

Wally Wilmott

Jimmy Stone reflects on the Can-Am days working alongside Teddy Meyer, Denny Hulme and Peter Revson…(below)

Jimmy Stone

A rare treat for one and all as American motor racing legend Dan Gurney joined us live from the West Coast of America and the All American Racers HQ to share his memories of Bruce McLaren and some of his own memorable moments including where the ‘Dan Gurney Chicken Shit Breaking Technique’ came from…I cannot tell you what is was like for me to interview Dan – I felt very humble! (Thanks to Kathy and her IT guys for making this work too at All American Racers!)

Dan

Former long standing McLaren man of old, Leo Wybrott talks the audience through memorable moments testing with the late Gilles Villeneuve in a McLaren – another legend talking about working with a legend!  Leo now lives in Perth Australia, but his memories of McLaren still burn brightly for him (pictured below) and in November when I am there with a banking client of mine, I will be taking up his invite to lunch ;) I can’t wait, nice one Leo…Leo

Our next guest on stage was, and is, a true hero for me.  Although we never worked on the same team, I used to look at the pictures of Jochen Mass in his F1 days alonside James and I believed all drivers were like that – in other words Superstars!

In latter years post F1, Jochen went on to drive for Rothmans Porsche in World Sports Car Racing with my now wife Denise as his event manager!  Matthew and I were both delighted to receive his acceptance of our invitation to the event and judging by the round of applause Jochen received both on coming to the stage and returning to his table, everyone in the room felt the same as me…Jochen is a racer, a gentleman and an all round fantastic chap – thank you Jochen for attending.

Jochen

The next guest to the stage was a man who recently has been in the public eye a lot.  Alastair Caldwell (below) was the Team Manager of the McLaren Team in 1976 and was heavily featured in the Hunt v’s Lauda BBC2 Documentary shown recently in the UK.  A very successful businessman in latter years, Alastair is ‘not know for mincing his words’ and he did not disappoint on this occasion, as he shared some very frank views with us from that meteoric year.  Certain bits about the new RUSH movie frustrated him, but he did admit it was a Hollywood epic and not documentary in construction – the benefit many of us have had is that having seen BBC 2′s versions of events and now the RUSH movie – we have the complete facts (I doubt that James if you are listening… ;)

It was a real pleasure to interview Alastair and have him in our midst….

AC

As if by magic, (well, good scripting really!) our next two guests were Freddie and Tom Hunt, Son’s of the legendary James. Tom has different views on RUSH to Alastair, branding it a great movie and commenting how much James would have loved the focus on him, and no doubt the red carpet party afterwards!  Standing there interviewing them both with their good looks and almost identical voices and similar manerisms to James, I felt hugely priveliged to be doing my job that night!

Tom and Freddie Hunt

Next up was Dave Ryan. (below)  Almost 35 years with the McLaren Team makes Dave an aspirational figure in Formula 1 and motor racing terms.  Starting out as a Mechanic, he graduated to Chief Mechanic, McLaren Factory Manager, Race Team Manager and then Sporting Director before leaving the team in April 2009.  Today he runs his own sports car team and is someone of immense modesty, yet huge capability.

Dave received a very warm welcome as indeed did all of our guests, and he told a great story about letting of a fire extinguisher off under the factory toilet door as someone had been in there far too long, only minutes later to see Phil Kerr, former McLaren Racing Director emerge and walk to his office completely unfazed by the ‘experience’….

DR

The evening provided very many happy moment and much laughter.  Rosie Barnard, wife of  former McLaren Technical Director John Barnard enjoys one of the evening’s stories….(below)

Rosie Barnard

The evening continued unabated.  The next person I had the honour to introduce was Brett Lunger.  A McLaren ‘privateer’ in his day, Brett was, and is a remarkable man.  He served his country in Vietnam having voluntarily enlisted, then after the war followed his career into motor racing.  He will always be remember as one of the four drivers on the scene in the immediate aftermath of Niki Lauda’s almost fatal accident in 1976 at the German GP.  It was Brett who pulled Niki from the cockpit of his burning Ferrari and when I asked him about in the build up to the evening, and if he would not mind me mentioning it, I asked him how he felt about what he had done when he saw so much fiery horror in front of him- he replied ‘it cost me a good pair of driving shoes’…today he flies mercy missions in the US, around 20 a year, helping severely ill patients, and delivering organs and blood for those less fortunate than ourselves…what a star guest :

Brett

….and they just kept on coming!  Someone out there should have made this into a TV show for motor sport fans really, but once the edit is complete, it will be on YouTube anyway, so enjoy!  To the podium next was James Hunt’s former Cheif Mechanic from the 1976 season, Howard Moore.  Howard was interviewed by me earlier in the day and added some great annecdotes to that year both to camera and live, so await the edit with baited breath my friends…

Howard Moore

By now, you will have begun to realise what a fantastic job I had on this night, a real honour!  Being able to introduce and interview so many legendary figures was a dream come true, and each person contributed some fabulous insights into the evening. Next up was spray shop manager George Langhorn and despite last year telling the audience at Brooklands that the paint only contributed 3.5 kilos to the weight of a GP car, this year he would not open up further – George, you are excused and McLaren’s secrets kept intact!

GL

Next came the opportunity to welcome one of motor racing’s favourite Sons – Jo Ramirez.  A friend, a true gentleman and a true cornerstone in Formula 1 thanks to the relationships he has had with his drivers and the teams he has worked for over the years.  Jo shared with us his personal thoughts on his time at McLaren, the tempestuous relationship at times between John Barnard and Ron Dennis in a humorous manner and his feelings when at Ayrton’s last McLaren race at Adelaide in 1993 Ayrton spoke to him privately in the cockpit of his race car…what a pleasure talking to Jo was…

JR

One of the great things (and there are many) of working in Formula 1 and then latterly in working with Matthew to create this reunion, is that the characters you have known and loved, in the main return to the events out of their passion from their years in spent in the team.  A hugely popular, warm and funny guy next onto the stage was Ben Horne…watching Ben speak and work with his friends and team mates of seasons gone by was a pleasure and whilst Ben by his own words is fighting an illness at this time, he was as warm, funny and pleasant as ever…keep at it Ben and our best wishes ;)

 

BH

During the course of my introduction to Ben, Matthew approached me from the side of the stage looking rather perturbed…earlier that afternoon, unknown to me, he had spoken to 1974 World Drivers’ Champion Emerson Fittipaldi who was very keen to address the audience, despite not being able to attend in person…When handed a mobile with a World Champion on it and one as legendary as ‘Emo’, one has to improvise…and boy did I have to improvise!  You will see and hear in the edited video how it was done…Never before have I held a mobile phone to my tie clip microphone to allow a World Champion to address his audience, but it worked and I loved it as did the audience…wait to see and hear it in that video!

At this point we were running into the latter part of the evening.  Matthew and I had intended to wind things down around 23.30hrs but having asked the audience if it was good for me to continue, I got the response to keep going such was the enjoyment we were all having, so our next guests was none other than88′/89′ McLaren test driver, and FIVE TIMES Le Mans winner, Emanuele Pirro.  He spoke with typical italian passion about his days with the team and working with Ayrton, Alain and engineer, Tim Wright and the times they spent together in Japan.

EP

Engineers Steve Nichols and Tim Wright were next up with Steve talking about his 1988 design which when it first ran he knew ‘it would be alright’ and Tim shared a great story about being taken around Suzuka by Ayrton in a Honda NSX during a lunch break at testing…the verdict? ‘Unbelieveable said Tim, relaxed, fast and safe...ah, those were the days..

S&T

With so many drivers, engineers, team managers and the like present for the evening, we really felt it important to take a look at the team from the sponsors perspective.  Matthew and I invited a number of people from Shell and Mike Branigan (left) and Peter van Voorst Vader (right) explained how the McLaren/Shell relationship came about – it makes interesting listening and will be on the video…

MB PVVV

No F1 McLaren evening would be the same without JB.  John Barnard, (below) is one of racing’s legendary designers and a man who has brought success not only to McLaren, but Ferrari as well during his career.  JB told the story of how a pressurised fuel test undertaken whilst he was out at lunch ‘blew up’ a brand new MP4 carbon tub! – For years, JB believed it was Ron’s (Dennis’s) doing but Dave Ryan made a confession on the night that he forgot to put the dump botle onto the tub to relieve in the incoming pressure….is JB going to apologise?  You’ll have to wait for the video answer if you were not there on the night….

JB

And so, with the evening drawing to a close, it was raffle time.  (below)  Matthew had painted four amazing historic McLaren car images as I said earlier…these raffle prizes were taken from the originals – signed one of one proofs by Matthew and a range of team members from each year pursuant to the artwork.  Bruce McLaren’s younger Sister Jan drew the four winning tickets and we raised £1589.00 for Cancer Research UK, The Pink Ribbon Foundation for Breast Cancer and The Bruce McLaren Trust – nice one everybody!

Raffle

And so towards our close…the highly respected journalist and best selling motorsport author David Tremayne explains to the audience why he thinks McLaren is the greatest team in the world and how Martin Whitmarsh has assisted David in his personal land speed record attempt..

DT

We came to the point in the evening where Matthew and I wanted to recognise the incredible talents of McLaren’s legendary designers.  International artist, friend and client Simon Taylor offered to produce four stunning images of the designers with their creations although due to a back operation, Robin Herd was unable to attend in person.  The pictures were presented to Gordon Coppuck, JB and Steve Nichols by Simon, Matthew, Emanuele Pirro and 81′ British GP winner John Watson to great applause…

ST PResi

Sadly, whilst I think we could have gone on until the wee hours, it was already 00.30 and it was time to close the event.  I called upon Event Founder and fellow organiser Matthew Jeffreys (below) to offer his closing words which he did with true passion for the team in which he and all of us in the room had spent the best parts of our lives.  Matthew then handed back to me to close the evening…

MJ Close

As I closed out the evening, I welcomed Colin Beanland (below) to the stage on behalf of Patty McLaren-Brickett to say a few final words about Bruce and those early days.  I then went on to intro a short 4 minute video of those memories and we ended with the picture below of Bruce and his lovely daughter Amanda who with her Husband was with us in the audience….

Colin

Bruce with daughter Amanda (below)

Proud Father

In closing the evening on behalf of Matthew and myself, I would like to thank all of those people who had supported us in making this event happen.  For the audio visual, sound, camera and backdrops our thanks go to Guy and Tess Ferguson of MultimediaPlus,  Henley-on-Thames, LAT Photographic kindly donated their photographic services through photographer Sam Bloxham, Malcolm Billyard, former McLaren International Graphic Designer provided us with the artwork for the brochure, table settings, place names and support material design through his Oak Design Company of Hampshire, Simon Taylor spent many hours paining and drawing the tribute pictures for Robin Herd, Gordon Coppuck, John Barnard and Steve Nichols, Alix Beale produced the stunning one of bust of Bruce McLaren and provided the two wonderful stage sculptures, we also received great support from Matthew’s wife Sue, my wife Denise, my own Son Julian, and friend and fellow F1 lover, John Curtis.

To Martin Whitmarsh a HUGE thank you for the load of Marlboro McLaren Honda MP4/4-1, to Andrea Burani for the loan of his M23, Roger Wills for the display of early McLarens, Mark Oakley of MRO F1 Engineering for displaying his incredible 1/12th scale replica F1 cars, Matthew for the lovely paintings of the four McLarens taken from over the years for the programme and raffle prizes and to Richard West Associates Limited for also supporting the event behind the scenes.

Without all of them and the support of our families Matthew and I could not have put this event together…to show our appreciation of the support from Matthew’s wife Sue (right) and my wife, Denise, (left) we presented them both with flowers to a rousing round of applause from the audience. (Below)

Flowers

In closing this epic blog, well mini book really, I have to offer my thanks to Matthew.  He and I have spent many months discussing, shaping and working with a very talented group of individuals without whom we could never have delivered an event such as this.

My friendship with Matthew is without doubt, now lifelong.  He coined the phrase a while ago ‘You can leave McLaren, but McLaren never leaves you’ and without doubt Wednesday 11th September’s event at The Hilton Hotel in Arundel proved to me that that is true.

As a speaker and event host, this for me was my finest event and I do not say that lighly.  I get huge satisfaction from my work each and every time I speak or host, but this was special to me as indeed McLaren is special to me from my few years spent there in the 1980′s.  I was deeply honoured to be able to act as on stage host for this gathering and to work with Matthew behind the scenes as his fellow organiser….

My final highlight was to be able to have my picture taken with the MP4/4 and my beloved family, all of which and in every sense, mean so much to me.

family

Please keep an eye out on my site for the total picture library in coming weeks and of course, the edited video…thank you for reading, I hope the blog is not too long and even if it is, I am sure you will forgive me for recording this piece of history a faithfully as I can remember :)

This weekend I have relaxed in peace at home knowing that thanks to McLaren, I have yet again experienced history – what a wonderful feeling….

The Importance Of Maintaining A Network Of Valued Friendships

PT Mc 1

Above: Patrick Tambay in his McLaren – picture courtesy of Patrick himself :)

In recent weeks, I have been spending much time researching information on guests, their histories and successes as I prepare for the forthcoming McLaren Old Boys and Girls Reunion and Dinner on September 11th close to Goodwood Racing Circuit.  It is a poignant event as it is very close to where on June 2nd in 1970 the racing teams founder Bruce McLaren lost his life in a testing accident and it is also the anniversary of the dreadful happenings in New York 12 years ago.  Importantly, whilst giving thoughts and due reference to these happenings, it is also a time of great joy and happiness as old friends and colleagues come back together from across 50 years of motor racing achievement to celebrate their achievements and successes as individuals and as teams. From Can-Am to Indycar, from Formula 1, to Heritage collections, they will be there.

As the event’s host and in working with founding organiser Matthew Jeffreys, (McLaren’s former chassis designer between 1979 and 2005), I have been contacting a great many former and current McLaren employees, sponsors, drivers and colleagues who are attending and it is with these actions in mind that I realise the importance of a strong, well connected network of friends and associates.

It has given me a real and much needed jolt in terms of just how quickly our professional and personal lives pass us by. One of those I have contacted for the event is former Formula 1 driver, Patrick Tambay.  I got to know Patrick quite well in the 1980′s and it was only in contacting him last week that I realised what a wealth of information this great man holds in his mind and in his archives, yet despite those years of fun and friendship, we had lost contact.  Patrick’s achievements were quite something – despite only winning two GPS’s,  he drove for McLaren, Ferrari, Beatrice, Renault, Theodore, Ligier, Surtees and Haas Lola!  2 Wins, 11 Podiums, 5 Pole Positions, 2 Fastest Laps and 103 career point scored…as if that is not enough, he is a deputy mayor in a suberb of Cannes in France and is godfather to Jacques Villeneuve!  He is also a food and wine lover – what better mate can a bloke have?

How I am asking myself can one lose touch with associates and friends like that?  The answer is scarily simple really in that we all get immersed in our busy lives, projects, with friends and families and the like and we seem to forget the depth and value of what we have gained along the way.

Another great friend and sparring partner from 1987 and my time at McLaren as Sponsorship Co-ordinator is former GP driver Stefan Johansson. Ferrari, Onxy, McLaren, Spirit Racing….how on earth did I lose touch with him? And Prost, yes Alain Prost! Four times World Champion, 1984/85/86/87/that amazing 1988 season and again at Williams in 1992 spent together…how could we have lost touch?

This has all taught me one thing…I should spend more time on speaking to people and friends within my network and my phone book!  Not just for business reasons of course, but for reasons of personal value in terms of friendship and sharing past achievements and current interests.  All of us benefit from great experiences as we move through life and whilst some record these on film and in pictures and others on paper and in books, it is all too easy to forget to relish the important moments in our life and think how by keeping in contact we could prosper both in terms of ongoing business and commerce.  Most importantly though, through friendships we are enriching our time on this planet.

However well we know someone, at times it can be a shock to see how they have developed their lives and we have failed to notice.  One of my great friends is artist and musician, Simon Taylor.  Simon and I met through motor racing and his then thriving artwork business of drawing and painting motorsport stars in F1 rally and motorcycle racing.  After our meeting in 1994 I went on to represent Simon for many years and whilst we still have the ‘opportune crossing’ of interests, I have failed to keep a close watch on his skills as they have matured and developed – the end result?

This picture:

ST+piano m

What a stunning piece of work!  Simon and I are now actively working together again on the McLaren 50th reunion where four of his specific new works will be on display.

However the point of this ‘shameful admission’ of mine of not paying enough attention, is this.  We all know we lead busy lives, we all know we try hard to find that elusive balance in our business and private lives and we know that to move ahead, we must continually refresh and reinvigorate ourselves and our offerings, but the crucial thing is also to remember all of those in our pasts and pay them due reference, for it is by doing so that we enruch our own lives and those of our friends and clients.

I cannot put into words how much I am looking forward to seeing 240 people from all eras of McLaren’s history back in one room.  Engineers, financiers, mechanics, sponsors, drivers, media and family members.  What is hugely important moving forwards as friends and keeping in touch.

As Matthew Jeffreys said to me the other day “McLaren is a family – we move, we travel, we change and we develop, but we are a family, and families should stick together”.

My ‘family’ from years gone by has just given me something once again.  It has given me the impetus to keep in touch, exchange views and contacts and above all, value what we all have in our human networks – friendship.

My friendships within my client base from later life are taking me far during the remainder of this year.  From Dublin to Scotland and later in the year to Australia and the Middle East, I will be making sure I leave no stones unturned in keeping in touch we everyone I meet along the way.

As if I needed any further prompting, I watched the Hunt v’s Lauda BBC2 documentary again on Sunday night.  In talking to my Sons, I mentioned it and was asked, did you ever know James or work with Niki Lauda…perhaps I need to spend more time with my family…..

Balancing Performance, Safety and Entertainment for Everyone’s Sakes

When the Senna movie came out in 2010, Ayrton, ‘the master’ and indeed Formula 1 as a sport and a business was once again exposed to a completely new audience of followers and admirers. As a speaker, one of the most common questions I get is “What was it like to work with Senna?” It was in truth an amazing experience and one from which I benefitted from by working with him in two teams at McLaren in 88’ and at Williams in 94’, but more of that another day except to say that the great man whilst certainly a huge supporter of increased safety for Drivers, team members and spectators alike, was not for limiting performance.

Senna Imola interview

Many of today’s F1 fans were very young and in many cases not even born on that dreadful day of the 1st of May 1994 when Ayrton lost his life.  However, the power of the Senna film, the reflections of those who knew him well and the impact of his death, and also that of Roland Ratzenberger the day before (Saturday 30th April) who died during qualifying, left a fresh legacy of awe and respect for the talents of those taken from us far too soon.  It also called into question safety.

The film was a look into a window from the past and leaving aside the tragic events of the San Marino GP weekend, it showed us another world in terms of Formula 1 racing which has come a long way since that weekend, but which yet again is now under the spotlight in examining the safety of that most dynamic of F1 processes, The Pit Stop.

In times gone by, the pit stop was mainly measured not by the speed of the tyre changes but by the flow of fuel into the cars as in those heady days, re-fuelling was also allowed.  Therefore it was the flow of the fuel that dictated the pit stop time and not the wheel change in the majority of stops.

Re-fuelling has long gone and so we are into the realms of the two second pit stop these days, but a recent accident when a wheel and tyre from Mark Webber’s Red Bull came adrift and caused injury in the pit lane at the German Grand Prix has led to a range of changes and proposals to make the pit stops safer.

Following any accident in any sport or industry leads to call for increased safety, and rightly so.  Some say ‘the risk’ is what makes motor racing attractive but I strongly refute the argument that people go to races to see crashes or incidents and most certainly for those working within the sport, minimising risk is always a top priority.

No-one, at least no-one in their right mind wants to see anyone hurt, injured or at worst killed whilst racing, but to a man and a woman, everyone does want to see spectacle, hear incredible noise and if possible get close to the Drivers and the action therefore in my opinion, if we remove journalists, film crews and the public too far away from the centre of the action, we risk alienating the sport from the very consumers that form its central core and who crave its action and excitement.

I often think back to that May weekend in 1994 and my role at that time as Director of Sponsorship and Marketing Services for the Rothmans Williams Renault team when in fact I was as far as I know, the last person ever to ‘interview’ Ayrton before his untimely death.

The picture at the head of this piece was taken around 12.15 on Sunday May 1st, approximately two hours before Ayrton’s accident at the Tamburello corner at the Imola circuit in the team’s hospitality area where I was presenting both he and Damon Hill to our assembled guests.

Quite simply in my humble opinion, Formula 1 as a spectacle and as a racing category was more exciting when the racing took precedence over the technology.  Now already I hear cries of “Oh here we go, another greying ex F1 bloke talking about the good old days”, but in fact they were very good days thanks to the fact that although the cars were designed and manufactured to the best of everyone’s abilities and budgets, I believe the raw talent of the driver was a more significant as they had to frequently ‘make up’ for the lack of technical excellence in the cars they were driving.

Formula 1 motor racing is about noise, spectacle, the best of best competing wheel to wheel and so many other things that current day business can apply to strengthening its competitive position – it is why I have used The Pit Stop Challenge with a Jordan F1 car many times to assist me in training people to better understand communication, strategy, role change and collaboration to best effect.  It is hard to find something more performance and focus driven than a well executed pit stop.

Jordan PSC

Clearly today, the cars are hugely safer and that is a very good thing – I would change nothing in this respect as having experienced the loss of Ayrton from within the team this is not something I would wish on anyone – it is simply horrendous to lose a friend and colleague in any circumstances, let alone one so public.

Ayrton’s and Roland’s legacy to F1 was a huge increase in car and driver safety and also that of the circuits.  The late Professor Sid Watkins worked with Bernie (Ecclestone) tirelessly to improve medical response and track safety and that drive continues today within F1, the FIA and the teams themselves, all of whom continually looking to improve the safety record of the sport.

Where I feel a huge gain could be made is that of producing cars that are whilst as safe as they can be, they are a little less technical.  There will always be the argument that F1 is the absolute pinnacle of motor racing, that it is the place where only the best of the best is good enough and that technical restrictions should not apply. Well, I disagree.  I know engineers everywhere will roll their eyes in horror but I fail to see how double diffusers, DRS systems etc can really add to the spectacle of…well, good motor racing whereas a 2 second pit stop is, well, electric!!!

Take a look back to the classic Senna in car footage from Monaco in 1988 with a manual gearbox, again at Monaco view the battle between Senna and Mansell with just a few laps remaining in 1992…yes, I know we have seen some amazing battles in recent seasons but the cars themselves today are just so much more technical and they cost so much more money, money which in our straightened times is harder to find.

The current three session qualifying is clearly a way of getting to a finalised grid.  So was 1 hour session with unlimited qualifying tyres with everyone battling to overcome the odds and get a clear lap in ‘heavy traffic’…those who witnessed Senna, Prost, Mansell and Piquet at full chat on their super soft qualifying tyres, crossing the line with just seconds to spare and putting in a barnstorming lap were very lucky indeed.

So what am I ranting on about I hear you say? Well, it’s pure and simply performance linked to entertainment. We all want to see it, experience it, be part of it and most of all enjoy it. That performance must be part of a considered strategy which encompasses safety at all times, but we must not let finite technology or over-zealous rules override what is first rate entertainment.

More so in the past, the Drivers were outspoken and thankfully on this issue they have strong views as expressed in this piece in Autosport magazine written by Jonathan Noble: http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/108963

Formula 1 Drivers think it would be wrong to rid the sport of the spectacle of fast pitstops amid the current safety clampdown.  Both the FIA and FOM have introduced changes to pitlane protocol in the wake of a cameraman getting hit by a loose wheel from Mark Webber’s car at the German Grand Prix.

As well as teams now facing grid penalties if cars are released with loose wheels, there has been a change in the pitlane speed limit and restrictions on media access.

Ideas have also been put forward about ways of slowing down the pitstops to stop mechanics needing to rush matters.  But drivers are not convinced that going that far is necessary, especially because part of F1′s attraction is the speed with which wheels are changed.

Webber said: “When they turn a car around quickly it is a great advert for the sport.

“It is another part of our operation as an industry to show how performance orientated we are, although that stuff doesn’t really go into road car stuff or your local Kwikfit.

“It’s a nice message to show how much time we focus on it. It’s impressive and a lot of people talk about it when they walk past the garage and they see an F1 car arriving and disappearing in two or three seconds.”

Jenson Button thinks a simple solution to the debate over whether or not pitstops are too quick is to bring back refuelling.  “It is an exciting part of the sport and motor racing is dangerous, as we all know,” explained the McLaren driver.  “They didn’t used to have speed limits in the pitlane and now they have speed limits so that is a good step forward.

“Obviously the pitstops have got very, very fast and there have been a few incidents of tyres coming off, which is horrendous.  “But the reason they are so fast now is because we don’t have refuelling. We have taken away a danger, refuelling, and got faster pitstops – so I think bring back refuelling. I am sure it was a lot more fun.”

Fernando Alonso thinks that ultimately any changes that can improve safety around pitstops has to be a positive for everyone.

“We all try to find the limit in pitstops,” he said. “If they find a solution to increase the pitstop time to improve safety, and it is the same for all the teams, I think no one will disagree.”

As in all things in life, it is about attaining a balanced position and allowing performance to shine through as with too many controls in place, we simply stifle creativity and best practice. Techology in a racing car is a great thing provided it is not technology for technology’s sake – at the centre of performance are human beings and as Ayrton once said:

“And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high”.  He was I believe talking about his ability, not the technology in his racing car…

 

Having a haircut with impressionist Rory Bremner (and Ron Dennis)…

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(Picture of Rory Bremner Copyright BBC)

Wherever I am working in the world presenting, my days always start with the same routine.  06.00 my alarm goes off and at 06.02 it goes off again. Both times and despite it being necessary to wake me, it always scares me half to death for I am not by nature,  a good morning person.   By 06.20 I have finished my coffee and enjoyed a relaxed 10 minutes of watching the local BBC or BBC World news headlines depending on where I am working and then it’s into the shower, shave and the day truly begins as I get dressed with my chosen suit, shirt and accompanying accessories, all laid out, without fail, and however late my arrival, the night before.  It never matters what time my event appearance is scheduled, this is my routine that is all part of delivering the best performance I am capable of for my clients.  Call it OCD if you wish, but I’ve always been that way and strangely I find it adds greatly to my confidence going into an event.

Looking sharp and businesslike is all part of being a speaker.  You may be in relaxed dress mode, suited without tie or in formal business attire, but the important thing is that you look and feel sharp!  It was with those thoughts in mind, that yesterdays schedule also included a much needed visit to get a haircut as over the past couple of months I have been engaged in a project which has seen me looking, ‘a little more laid back than usual’, the real meaning of which was that I looked like ‘I had been dragged through a hedge backwards’, as my late Mother would have said.

So as part of yesterday’s routine before I took to the podium for a long standing client in front of some 120 of their staff in a mid afternoon slot at The Old Ship Hotel in Brighton, I had arranged an early morning trip to the barbers/hair dressers/salon or whatever it is you call them these days.

I shall show my age now and call it a ‘barbers’, which is in fact a very stylish and modern salon in the centre of Brighton on the South Coast of England and was where I was to meet Sarah who would turn me back into a more corporate looking animal for the days challenges which still lay before me.

Having arrived early (another extremely important trait of mine – I hate lateness) I was greeted by the aforementioned stylist who whilst waiting for her colleague to arrive asked me what I did for a living and the usual conversation took place about Formula 1 racing, now being a professional speaker and what the weather was going to do for the next week.

Sarah as it turns out, is an extremely knowledgeable woman when it comes to Formula 1.  It transpires that her other half is a HUGE Lewis Hamilton fan and is still getting over his move to Mercedes from McLaren (Lewis’s move that is, not our Sarah’s partner) Still with me? Good.

As we chatted another greying middle aged Gent arrived and took his seat on the other side of the salon.  Now,  I am sure we blokes are all pretty much the same in this matter, in that when someone is using razor sharp scissors, beard trimmers and cutters around your head, ears, neck and throat, the urge to turn round and chat is somewhat curtailed.

After half an hour of removing much of my greying locks and successfully making me look a little more in the mould of ‘Corporate Man’ as opposed to ‘Neanderthal Man’, Sarah offered me the mirror to see those parts a chap seldom gets to see and as I studied the customer opposite, (also may I say starting to look better for his trim too), I thought to myself “I know you from the telly”….

Know him, indeed I did and know him now I do, as it was none other than the hugely talented political impressionist, playwright and comedian, Rory Bremner.  It turns out Rory is a huge F1 fan and he also knows Ron Dennis (yes, that one of McLaren fame) quite well.  As a former McLaren employee (me, not Rory that is) and an admirer of Ron for the way in which his attention to detail is reflected in everything he does, Rory and I (we are great mates by now) are well into discussions about Ron’s career and achievements, the current state of play in Formula 1 and the latest dramas from Silverstone last weekend with the teams suffering a number of punctures in their Pirelli tyres…

Totally unexpectedly, Rory turned himself into Ron to highlight a point in our conversation and apart from being amazed at the accuracy of the voice; I was taken aback by the facial expressions and personality traits that I and many others know Ron for.  Frankly, those few seconds of Rory taking off one of Formula 1’s most successful and powerful figures took me immediately back to those heady days when on occasions I sat opposite Ron at his desk and was, (ahem), ‘given directions about my future’ or listened intently to what it was he wanted and why he wanted it done his way – it was almost like being back at McLaren.

For those of you that are familiar with Rory’s impressions you will know he is one of those talents that not only sound like the person you know or have seen, but he even looks like them as well!  At times in the past he has been more Tony Blair than Tony himself and if as a reader of my blog you are not familiar with him, do take a look on YouTube – he is a real gem. He’s worth a’ Google’ too as anyone with that skill, able to speak French, Spanish and German and also currently learning Russian in addition to his natural English (well, Scottish actually by birth) is worth looking at (to say nothing of his acting, writing and presenting skills).

His achievements are many and from my brief meeting with him, he struck me as ‘a really decent bloke’.   Having just aired an ITV series (in the UK) entitled ‘Rory Bremner’s Great British Views’, at 52 Rory is still very firmly in the public eye and on the stage.

So there you have it, my morning at the ‘barber’s with both Rory Bremner and for a few seconds, ‘Ron Dennis of McLaren’.

It was one of those chance meetings and I took the opportunity to invite Rory and his wife to the McLaren 50th reunion dinner in September – I do hope Rory, you come back to me and say yes as the thought of ‘Ron interviewing Ron’, that is if the real Ron Dennis is there, would be fun beyond words.

Rory really is worth following if you get five minutes.  A regular Twitter user, he is very much in touch with his public, and has embarked upon a serious acting career as well.  Currently in Brighton for the week (obviously), any chance you have to see this hugely talented man should be taken.

As to those few golden moments in The North Laines Hair Salon 38, Gardner Street in Brighton, thank you Rory, and it was nice speaking to you again as well Ron!   Our haircuts were very good too….

As I walked back to my hotel sporting my new look thanks to Sarah I had a more than usual spring in my step.  How nice to be in a buzzy town, on the way to ones work, be able to meet an entertainment legend and be reminded of one’s old boss in such an amazing way – oh yes, and the event in the afternoon went very well too, so thanks to my client for that as well.  What a great day….



Richard West Associates
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