The room in complete and utter silence as they talked about Villeneuve’s death
A view from inside the FOTA Forum at Williams F1
Yesterday, for the third year in a row, a FOTA Fan Forum was held on British soil to the delight of local F1 fans. The location was the Williams F1 Conference Centre, this being the first time I have been there. And what a place it is! It's home to the Williams F1 museum - the largest private collection of Formula One cars in the world I believe!
I unfortunately only had 5 minutes to blast through the museum as I was delayed in traffic getting to the event. You'll find a few photos over on the facebook group which I hope you'll check out! But before I knew it, it was 6pm and the Forum was under way in the main room.
Things kicked off with Sir Frank Williams giving a little speech, mainly to thank the large crowd for coming and what not. Then it was over to host Lee McKenzie to welcome the crowd and say hello to Pastor Maldonado. Lee asked him about his win in Spain, and then for his point of view on the Lewis Hamilton incident at Valencia. After a long winded introduction to his answer, starting with his poor getaway from the grid, he eventually summed up the crash as "We got contact" and that he has to look forward to the next race. Not quite the juice we were after but there were some laughs under peoples breath at the awkwardness of the question.
A funny moment was Frank Williams sharing his thoughts on Pastor as he stood on the stage next to him. He said "He has unusual character, some times saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment, and sometimes the wrong thing and the right moment." But finished with "But he's quick, and anyone who questions his speed, well fool them!" So a tale of two halves there...
Up first, the team principles
The first half of the event was for three of the team principles to take questions from the floor. The principles were Martin Whitmarsh (McLaren), Ross Brawn (Mercedes) and Bob Fearnly (Force India).
The questions were plentiful, and raised issues with all the big topics in F1 at the moment. The tyre situation, the ease of DRS overtaking, engine development, budget caps and cost cutting. To be honest a lot of the questions were similar to last years event at the McLaren Technology Centre. But there were laughs along the way and I feel the fans were satisfied in being able to openly chat to the people from the inside of F1, it being such a rare occasion.
Particular quotes that made me laugh were Martin Whitmarsh saying "And people even use DRS indiscriminately" whilst looking at Ross Brawn. This is of course in relation to Michael Schumacher's DRS use into a yellow flag zone last time out in Valencia. It was all very light hearted though, as you'd expect. Martin also made the point that to retain your star drivers, "you need to build a winning car, have a good team... and of course pay them well." Again, more laughs in relation to whether Lewis Hamilton's pay demands will be met when his contract negotiations start in the near future.
Onto the F1 Legends
The second hour had three F1 legends up on the stage. They were Patrick Head, Derek Warwick and the hair that is, John Watson.
The questions and answers in this hour felt a little less formal and a bit more conversational. Derek and John had some great insightful stories to tell no matter what the questions fired at them were.
One of the questions towards the end was aimed at Derek and was how he felt about driving a F1 car after seeing his team mate Martin Donnelly crash so badly in Jerez 1990.
Derek gave a long answer about how F1 drivers have to block out emotion like that. He said in real life he was a main of many emotions, but when he was in the cockpit of a racing car it was always to do a job. He said F1 drivers have a little safe in the back of their mind, and if tragedy occurs, they can lock events in that safe for the rest of the weekend, and process their feelings towards them after the race weekend was over. On the topic of his team mate Martin Donnelly's crash and the fragility of his Lotus car, he said he agreed with his family not to race the next day. But when he got back to the circuit the next day, the team has assured him that titanium supports that had been added to the car had made the car safe - and with that he went out to qualify and race. He also said Lotus were in financial trouble and he hadn't of raced, it would have potentially spelt the end of the team not long after.
John Watson also contributed to the answer. He told of how when François Cevert was killed in practice at Watkins Glenn in 1973, he wasn't sure what to do when they restarted the session. Apparently Bernie Ecclestone came up to him and said "What are you doing, what are you doing! Get back in the car." That is how ruthless it was back then, and he realised from that point that F1 drivers either have to do that, or they shouldn't be racing drivers in the first place.
Both drivers had to put that theory to the test when they arrived at the scene of the Gilles Villeneuve crash in Belgium 1982. The both had to see Gilles body, lying in the catch fencing after his enormous accident. Afterwards they would get back in their cars, drive to the pits and it would be business as usual.
The Conference Centre room was deadly silent during this part of the Forum. There was a real atmosphere as these aren't the type of stories you hear on F1 TV build up shows. The Legends section was a joy to listen to and truly unique.
And finally, Lee McKenzie
The finish off this little insight, I think it should be said that BBC's Lee McKenzie (http://www.leemckenzie.tv/) did a great job of presenting the event. She often gave her own views of how the F1 world works and what it feels like to be a journalist interviewing the drivers. I often have a bit of banter with my friends as to who is our favourite F1 TV girl, with mine always being Lee - she really knows her stuff and has a nice presence about her. So I'll be sticking with my choice!
Here's to another great FOTA event in 2013 - perhaps at AMG Mercedes GP this time?
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