"Today they grow up with their IT gadgets so they have never developed that down-to-earth race fanaticism – that fighting for every inch and sacrificing everything for it. It is a different generation."
This was the quote from Red Bull Racing director Helmut Marko, when asked by Formula 1.com for its Senna tribute section.
It is an interesting concept, an observation from a man in his 60s who has been around racing for many years and who raced himself at a time when drivers were regularly killed. Marko himself lost an eye racing.
Do modern F1 drivers project passion? And as a consequence, does the crowd at the track and the TV audience have less passion to feed off?
As part of the ongoing discussion about F1 and what it stands for, this argument is worth noting, as the drivers are the ultimate showcase for F1, its most popular asset. Marko, who has overseen the progress of almost 100 young drivers through the Red Bull development program, is suggesting that modern F1 drivers don’t project the passion for the sport that drivers like Senna did 20 years ago, “that down-to-earth race fanaticism – that fighting for every inch and sacrificing everything for it".
I suspect that drivers like Fernando Alonso would agree with this.
Drivers arrive in F1 now having been on a conveyor belt since karting, funded by wealthy fathers or sponsors and thus highly professionalized from a young age, studying telemetry and data from the earliest days of karting. Are they motorsport fanatics or just drivers on a conveyor belt? That is Marko’s thesis.
Does seeing the world through a series of gadgets create a mood of disengagement in drivers, as many parents worry that it does in their children?
Marko contends that the young drivers of today are reared on Play Station games, iPads and gadgets and as a result they see F1 as a kind of technical exercise. No doubt the fact that the cars are safer -which can only be a good thing – plays a part in their mindset.
The flip side of this, of course, is that social media makes today’s drivers more accessible to the fans than drivers of Senna’s era. They can have a direct connection with the drivers.
And comments on sites like this one, show the level of interest and passion that fans have for their favorite drivers and ones they dislike.
He goes on, “If I were to pick three attributes for Senna it would be speed, charisma and ruthlessness. He was a driver with such a huge level of commitment – in all his races – and somebody who acquired an unbelievable charisma over the years.
“On the driving side you probably would find one or another driver who could match Ayrton, but charisma is something that you either have or you don’t have." James Allen on F1