Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Road Rage

This weekend I watched the last race of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Brands Hatch after finishing my revision for my last exam this term. The start was delayed for quite some time due to Matt Jackson's car suffering damage after running over the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend and spilling oil everywhere. Oil on a race circuit is a bad thing, as I'm sure you'll all be aware. In this case, it ended up with eight cars sliding off of the track at Druids, the hairpin corner at the top end of the Brands Hatch circuit. So, the race was inevitably red-flagged while clean-up commenced and the cars were recovered. While the delay was unfortunate, the following race was well worth the wait, with some incredibly close racing for the top positions.

Now, when I say close, I'm not talking about people being within 0.5 of a second of each other, or even 0.2 or 0.1 of a second. I mean that the second place man (Jason Plato) was literally shoving the bumper of the first place man (Andrew Jordan). Those of you who regularly watch the BTCC probably aren't that surprised: this discipline of racing is some of the closest, and certainly one of the most... aggressive. It's quite a sport for the drivers to push each other out of the way, whether deliberately or due to the other driver not wanting to move while the cars edge ever closer. In F1, when someone makes a move towards another car more often than not someone will get out of the way, and contact is (usually - we hope) rare. It's a whole other story in the BTCC. If someone goes to push you, you try to push them back. It's what makes this form of racing exciting, and most of the time the drivers are adept at keeping their cars on the track.

Sometimes though, this doesn't always work out, and thus there are some cases where the pushing and shoving gets a bit extreme and people end up off the road. Doubtless if you go to YouTube and look up BTCC, you'll see footage of this pushing and shoving - when it works and when it goes wrong.

Watching the BTCC prompted me to think about what I can only describe as road rage within motorsport. In F1, we do see drivers wander off sulkily if they've been involved in a 'racing incident', and often we hear back from them afterwards each blaming the other driver.

The most notable incident (or should I say series of incidents) last year occurred between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. In the 2011 season, it appeared as though these drivers had magnetic cars, and there were around 5 incidents involving these two drivers spread over the season. These things happen, and the drivers have now moved on. However at the time it made for some ugly interviews. After one particular race incident, Massa came over to Hamilton and sarcastically told him 'Good job' while patting him on the back. Hamilton responded with a simple 'Don't touch me, man'. Now that the drivers have mended their rivalry for this season and moved on, this particular event seems quite amusing in retrospect, and it highlights to me that racing drivers aren't immune to the particular annoyances suffered by most of us when we're driving.

Another instance of this type occurred at the last F1 race between Sebastian Vettel and Narain Karthikeyan. Vettel was about to lap Karthikeyan and had moved mostly past him, however on pulling in front the drivers collided, eventually leading to Vettel missing out on 4th place. After the race, I noticed the most interesting headline in motorsport news: Vettel calls Karthikeyan a 'cucumber'. I am not making this up: after the race, Vettel called Karthikeyan a 'gerken' (cucumber), a word used to describe bad drivers in Germany. Of course, Karthikeyan responded and accused Vettel of being a 'Cry-baby'. In this context, the name calling is kind of funny, mostly stupid, but again highlights that racing drivers aren't so different from us drivers on the road. Oh, and I'm happy to report that Karthikeyan has since called a truce with Vettel, so hopefully the playgroud jibes will have stopped by the next race in China.

If you follow motorsport in the same way as me, you'll understand that following the sport isn't just about what goes on at the track, but hearing from the drivers' opinions and feelings. The squabbles are all part of this, and as I've highlighted before it just goes to show that racers can get road rage too. I'll leave you with perhaps the most hilarious racing driver road rage footage that I've come across: the Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar fight at Hockenheim in 1982. Enjoy: