The British Grand Prix yesterday, and another victory for Michael Schumacher. As last weekend his pitstop strategy had a lot to do with his victory – but David Tremayne put it best in the Independent when he wrote: “Four stops in France; two in Britain. Frankly, Ferrari could have sent him into Towcester for a Big Mac and fries for the crew and he’d still have won.”
Can’t say I was really watching the front of the grid though. Regular readers will know I’m a fan of Minardi, the perpetual strugglers who always finish last if they finish at all. It wasn’t the best of weekends for Minardi on the race track, with Zsolt Baumgartner’s engine giving up part-way round and Gimmi Bruni ploughing through his mechanics on a pit stop. But the truth is, we could have finished first and second and barely raised a smile.
Earlier in the week the Minardi sporting director, John Walton,. He’d suffered a heart attack at about the time of the big Formula One demonstration in central London a few days previously.
In an age when so many people in sport are bland, inoffensive constructs of their commercial managers, agents and publicists, “John Boy” was a hugely popular rough diamond. He’d entered motorsport with Eddie Jordan, at the time when the motormouth Irishman was a young driver with no idea he’d ever end up as an F1 team owner. He worked for most of the back- and mid-grid teams, and as a mechanic for Ayrton Senna, before moving to the Prost team as their sporting director and onto Minardi when Prost folded.
(Walton’s partner was the ITV pitlane reporter Louise Goodman, a former publicist at Jordan whose breathless, flirty interviews with Jenson Button are one of the pre-race highlights for us. We’d often joked about whether there was something going on there, without knowing she did, indeed, have a boyfriend in the paddock. I can’t imagine returning to work will be too much fun for her.)
The lifeblood of any F1 team is sponsorship: none of them would survive without it. Up at the rich end of the grid, Ferrari’s total annual budget is said to be about £226m, mostly from carefully colour-coordinated red sponsors such as Marlboro, Vodafone and the parent car company itself. Minardi, on the other hand, survives on £23m a year – less than Ferrari’s driver wage bill. Finding sponsors is a constant battle, as is keeping them happy. This year’s been relatively successful, although the price is that our main sponsor is a Dutch bathroom fittings manufacturer called Wilux, leading to jokes that our season went down the plughole before it had even started. As new sponsors have been added their logos – in all sorts of different colours – have been crammed onto odd corners of the car until all it seemed to lack was a “baby on board” sign and an “I♥NY” sticker.
Yesterday that had all been stripped away. Sponsors big and small, old and new, had been cleared off to leave the cars naked in their black and white paint scheme. Naked except for the simple words “J♥HN B♥Y”.
In the world’s most commercial sport, nothing could better demonstrate how some things are more important than money.
MINARDI REMEMBERS JOHN (offical Minardi statement)
SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND, July 11, 2004
In a heartfelt tribute to Sporting Director, John Walton, who died late Friday night following a serious heart attack earlier in the week, the cars of the Wilux Minardi Cosworth team competed in today’s British Grand Prix devoid of any corporate identification.
Prior to the start of the race, Zsolt Baumgartner and Gianmaria Bruni were both determined to reach the chequered flag as a fitting tribute to the man who regularly directed the team’s race strategy from the pit wall.
Despite a strong start to the Grand Prix, which saw the drivers setting very similar lap times in their first two stints, both men encountered problems as the event progressed. Baumgartner retired his car on lap 30 of the race with an engine problem, while Bruni was assessed a drive-through penalty just prior to the second of his three scheduled pit stops for an alleged infringement of the blue-flag regulation.
During that pit stop, a misunderstanding saw Bruni attempt to leave the Minardi pit before the refuelling nozzle had been fully disengaged from the car, several members of the crew sustaining minor injuries as a result. After that, Bruni drove tenaciously to claim 16th place at the chequered flag.
The team wishes to express its heartfelt thanks to an overwhelming majority of its commercial and technical partners for their agreement in running the Minardi entries without livery today as a mark of respect for John.
Minardi wear their heart on their cars
Sun 11 July, 2004 19:32
SILVERSTONE, England, July 11 (Reuters) – Minardi put friendship before finance at the British Grand Prix on Sunday in a heartfelt tribute to the team’s late sporting director John Walton.
The back of the grid team removed all advertising from their two black and white cars and raced at Silverstone with the words ‘John Boy’ — hearts replacing the letter ‘o’ — on rear wings and sidepods.
Walton, 47, died of a heart attack on Friday. The popular Irishman had been a regular on the team pit wall, directing race strategy.
“I’m deeply touched by the level of support Minardi has received this weekend,” said the team’s Australian boss Paul Stoddart.
“It really does show that Formula One is far more of a family than people realise, but most importantly it shows just how popular a figure John Walton was in the F1 community.”
Italian Gianmaria Bruni finished 16th on Sunday while Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner retired.
Minardi staff, including team boss Paul Stoddart, hold a minute’s silence in memory of John Walton. Former Minardi driver Mark Webber, now with Jaguar, has set aside pre-race rivalries to join them – absolutely typical of the man.
Keeping it simple for John Boy
The mobile billboard as it usually appears: all that mess was stripped off, including the ‘Golden Palace’ logo which is not – despite appearances – an ad for a Chinese takeaway.