Those who follow the sport would agree that F1 has had its fair share of highs and lows. Full of laughs and cries, dreams and morbid realities as well as sunny stories and dark secrets. Latelym F1 has been increasingly fraught with negative publicity and dwindling interest. It is not easy, even for a genuine fan, to remain motivated with the sport. While many sports have abundant motivational tales, F1 lacks some of that element. Because of a heavy reliance on machinery and equipment to perform, the genre itself remains absent from Olympics. But, to write off the sport just like that would be a mistake of elephantine proportions. Somewhere lost within the glitz, glamour and glory are the inspirational F1 stories. Stories that continue to remind us that the drivers make up the sport and their indomitable spirit drives it forward.
Damon Hill’s name would come as a surprise to anyone. The Brit is known for many things. A talented driver was not among them. He has been accused of making it to F1 on the strength of his last name. Despite being the son of F1’s most charismatic driver, a two-time world champion, Damon’s life was far from luxurious. Losing his father at the tender age of 15 in 1975 was not the worst of it. The subsequent insurance claims wiped out their family savings. The big house, the money and the luxury were all gone. Their life never really took off and hardships were inbound for the young Damon. To complete his education he worked as a laborer and a motorcycle courier.
His childhood ambition was motorbike racing, but, a lack of funds made it impossible. Aged 25, he had found enough money to make it to Formula Ford, Formula Three and Formula 3000. However, he fell short of the expectations that came with his surname. Nevertheless, hardships had shaped Damon into a hardworking and sincere man. This impressed Frank Williams of Williams Racing to hire him as a test driver in 1991 and in 1993. The Brit held his own against his phenomenal team mate Alain Prost.
The Brit had comfortably settled into a No.2 driver role within the team. But the tragic demise of Ayrton Senna in San Marino changed everything. The team was completely in shambles and the whole world turned against them. The task to lead the team fell on him. With his steely determination and perseverance, he rebuilt the morale of his team. All this was despite severe competition from Schumacher and his young team mate Villeneuve. In the middle of the year Williams told him his services were no longer required for next year.
Schumacher Brothers race amid tragedy
F1 drivers are the most physically and mentally fit athletes in the world. They cope up with the extreme G-Forces on the track and a host of political pressures off it. From intra-team competition to the demands of team bosses and fans, an F1 driver faces a lot of pressure. Unsurprisingly, majority of the drivers fiercely guard their personal lives and families from the media spotlight. This is done so that hey can have their slice of peace when they head back home. But what if things are not good back at home?
In April 2003 an unfortunate event stood face the Schumacher brothers as a week prior, their mother Elisabeth had fell down at her home and went into a coma. On Saturday, the brothers showed intense guts and locked out the front row. Immediately after qualifying, they flew to Germany to be at her side. They returned on Sunday to race. But, a few hours before the race the news of her demise reached them.
In true sportsmanlike fashion the brothers raced and bade a true farewell to their mother. She worked at a canteen beside the track to fund Michael’s racing career and always encouraged them to keep racing. The race finished with Michael taking his 65th career win and Ralf finishing 4th, the best his Williams could achieve. Atop the podium in tears , no champaign was sprayed and no celebration broke out as a mark of respect.
To race amidst such personal adversities requires great courage and self-belief. And on that day the Schumacher brothers showed it to the world that F1 is not made up of mechanical bits and machines but of human spirit to triumph against all odds.
Senna’s First win in Brazil
In the world of F1, inspiration and Senna go hand in hand. Such is the legacy of the man who’s hand down regarded as the greatest to have ever graced the sport. There are so many stories surrounding the Brazilian and his incredible feats that renders the task of choosing one and higlighting it very difficult. But, if inspiration is an criteria then in my regards his first win at his home soil in Brazil stands tall.
Coming to McLaren in 1988 in what was going to be the most dominant partnership of that era, Senna went on to win many races and his three championships. But, a victory in Brazil for one reason or the other eluded him until 1991 when he dutifully lined up on pole and lead the race. His challengers fell by the wayside and it looked like the brazilian would cruise to victory.
However, on the closing laps, his own gearbox gave up. At first the 4th gear went away and it was a big deal given the twisty nature of Interlagos. Then, in the last couple of laps, the 3rd and 5th gear were gone, meaning he had to drive those laps in 6th gear only. Interlagos’s a combination of slow and medium corners and having only sixth gear meant Senna nearly stalled a couple of times. But, he clinged on and kept pushing his MP4/8 for that elusive victory.
He finally crossed the line just 2.9 seconds ahead of Patrese and immediately broke down for having achieved his life long dream of winning at home. To the spectators, the magnitude of this victory was not clear until the McLaren stopped on track and marshalls had to pick up an exhausted Ayrton from the car and to the podium.
When he finally made it to the podium, he could barely stand, and he was in agony as he tried to lift the trophy. But he managed it, using all the noise and energy from his adoring fans to raise the cup briefly above his aching shoulders. The tremendous struggle of trying to keep the car under control caused him muscle cramps and fever.
It’s not often that one can feel such strong emotion through a TV screen but on that day the entire world with with eyes full of awe glued to the screen felt what that victory meant to a nation – and its favourite son.
Niki Lauda’s Comeback
Nicholas Andreas Lauda: six weeks after he was given the last rites of the Catholic church, appeared at the Autodromo di Monza, near Milan, not to spectate but to race his Ferrari in the 1976 Italian Grand Prix. His arrival was greeted at first with amazement, then with misgivings. On one hand, this heroic return from his death bed was an act of outstanding courage never before seen in racing.
It was 1st August 1976, a decisive day for Lauda, not only triggering the firestorm for one of the most thrilling world championship denouements in sporting history, but also forming the epic backdrop from which, through his own sheer resilience and bravery, he was able to craft his legacy as one of sport’s greatest heroes.
On lap two of the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Lauda’s Ferrari crested a left-hand kink before inexplicably slamming rightwards into an earth bank. The impact knocked the unconscious Lauda’s helmet from his head, leaving him powerless to extricate himself from the damaged car, which had slewed to a halt in the middle of the track and burst into flames.
Lauda was treated for serious smoke inhalation and left scarred for life by the searing burns to his head.
When Niki, who had outqualified both his Ferrari team mates, took off his helmet after the race, his balaclava was soaked in blood. The wounds from his still healing burns had opened up during an astonishing comeback that had exceeded all expectations.
And that one race elevated Niki Lauda to the status of a legend, the man who had raced against death and defeated it only to come back and race again in an era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous.