Danielle Badler writes about cars and driving and offers her columns to regional PCA newsletters. We’re grateful to be able to feature Diane’s work in Open Roads.
I Found a Modern Racing Hero!
Periodically, people chastise me for being an inveterate reader of The Wall Street Journal. It’s owned by that evil manipulator of the night and the right, Rupert Murdoch, they say. It’s biased, it’s dull, it’s out of touch. It has nothing whatsoever, today, to do with what made the paper great. And then I open it up to a profile titled “The Throwback Star of Formula One.” What? I mean, ok, but a profile of Lewis Hamilton? I didn’t even think the Journal knew that he actually walks on this planet. What do I know. This is what I know. It was a great read. And it made me rethink my view of Formula 1 “pilots” today. Or at least one of them.
You have to understand. Growing up, I was a big fan of Jim Clark. I have a framed photo of him, taken by Jesse Alexander. You know the one, where he’s looking out into space, head slightly cocked. As a kid, I read his bio. He took the author for a ride in his “daily driver,” a Euro Ford Falcon, probably a “company” car. He screeched and scrawled all over the Scottish moors. Then he suddenly stopped the car, to say that one tire was down a few pounds of pressure. Which it was. Clark seemed to be completely bewildered by his talent. Talent that led to abject disbelief when he bought the ranch in 1968. In a meaningless Formula 2 race. It just couldn’t happen. An example; he was asked how he can be so consistently faster than everyone else. And Clark simply answered, “I just brake a little later.” Yeah, and Babe Ruth just hit it a little farther. Sandy Koufax just threw it a little faster. Chuck Yeager just flew a little better.
Contrast to today. Driver coverage is so sanitary, they have a hard time fitting in the names of all their sponsors, when they go through the post-race “thank you” drill. You have no idea, as Chris Economaki would ask, what it’s like out there. So imagine my surprise when I read that, as a young cart racer, Hamilton’s father found the spot where the fast kids braked, and urged his son to brake five yards farther. He did… and he spun, and spun, and spun. But, eventually, “I became the latest braker.” Get this. He’s quoted in the article saying “I don’t like tiptronic, even though I race with tiptronic…. I like having a gear stick. I like three pedals. I like the heal-and-toe effect… you just have a little bit more control.” I know! Apparently Hamilton is infatuated with Senna. It makes sense. At his death, Hamilton was nine. Clark, on the other hand, died 17 years before he was born. At this writing, he has 40 wins in 160 starts, to Senna’s 41 wins in 161 starts. Any bets on whether he eclipses his idol? Damon Hill, who raced alongside Senna at Williams, is quoted as saying, “Any era you like, he would thrive…. I think it’s more difficult for him now because of the over-engineering of the competition.” The article, however, points out that, sure, it’s clear he has the fastest car out there… but so does Nico Rosberg. And Hamilton has out-qualified him in 11 of 12 races so far this season.
A few years ago, Hamilton test-drove Senna’s world championship-winning McLaren MP4/4 from 1988. He matched Senna’s pace almost exactly. How? This is a great quote. “People come up to me and say, ‘Oh, the way you took Turn 7, it’s so much better than others.’ I don’t know if they really can see that. Because when I’m watching, I can’t see the difference.” It is indeed that little bit later/faster/better. And it can’t just be explained. “I’m a real basic driver,” Hamilton says. “There’s drivers over time that close their eyes and envisage a lap and all that stuff. Maybe that works for them. For me it doesn’t. Me, I drive. I drive the seat of the car.”
Hooray. A real honest-to-goodness racing hero, in today’s age. He exists!
About Danielle Badler:
A New York native, Danielle Badler embarked on a writing and communications consulting career in early 2007, following more than 30 years in corporate communications, the last ten years as the chief global communications officer for three Fortune 500 companies, General Instrument Corporation, Unisys Corporation and Western Union.That experience involved six corporate relocations, including a year in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Her work today includes facilitating executive peer group meetings for The Conference Board inNew York, as well as regular articles and columns for the Porsche Club of America, TFL-Car.com and planet-9.com.
Danielle is a past member and trustee of the Arthur W. Page Society, a past trustee of the Foundation for Public Affairs and a past director of the Public Affairs Council. She has been named a PR All Star by Inside PR, and to Who’s Who in Corporate hi-tech PRby PRWeek.
Very active in community involvement, Danielle has been a two-term board president of Alliance Francaise de Denver and a board vice president of the National Federation of Alliance Francaises, as well as a member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press Association.
A graduate of Case Western Reserve University, where she co-edited her college newspaper, Danielle now calls Denver home.