Sunday, 27 February 2011

Getting older...

Those of my readers who know me, will know that I am not in my first flush of youth. I’ll make no bones about it: I’m in my fifties: Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister when I was born. And, although I started relatively late to have a family, my daughter becomes a teenager next month. As she grows up, so she shows me a different outlook on the world, just as I probably did with my parents before me.

As the years go by, I can’t avoid noticing the speed and inevitability with which change happens. And I find that, increasingly, my thoughts for this blog are around the way that “things ain’t what they used to be”.

So I was just getting ready to have a pop at ‘green’ technologies: electric car racing, bio-diesel, bio-ethanol, and so on and so forth. I was preparing a case to suggest that motor racing should be about going as fast as you can, whether in a straight line or around the corners, no matter what the cost in financial or planetary terms. Eco-friendly cars always seem to me to be a bit wacky and unrealistic. With innovative thinking so restricted in so many racing categories, I suppose I should applaud these initiatives, and I had to sit up and take notice when the hybrid Porsche nearly won the Nürburgring 24 hours last year. The trouble is that you never really know how much the regulations get tilted in favour of these things though. Look at the diesel sportscars from Audi and Peugeot: they do not compete on a level playing field with their petrol-powered brethren at Le Mans, do they?

There’s something about the ‘green movement’ of today that makes me slightly uncomfortable, I find. It’s a bit like that charity collector that you just know is going to try and engage you in a discussion. You know you ought to help, but, well, not me, not now. And there’s a tendency for the adjective ‘green’ to edge towards the word ‘alternative’, and that in turn can easily become ‘anti-establishment’ and it is that which I am most uneasy about. Those signs in hotel bathrooms encouraging me to use my towels again have an air of the rebel, the ‘left-wing extremist’ about them.

So, yes, I’m old; and yes, I’m getting out of breath trying to keep up with technology. But then Matt James wrote in Motorsport News last week about noise, and that got me thinking a bit more deeply. We live in an age of change. Nothing new with that of course, as human beings we have always changed things. It is not in our nature to leave things as they are – part of the reason that we have evolved as far as we have is that we make changes to everything, evaluate how that change looks, and hence make progress.

I may be being perverse, but I think that we have to accept that some racing cars are now quite quiet; just as we accept that fossil fuels will not last forever and that alternative means of powering our transport need to be found.

The future belongs to my children, not to me and it will be the future world that they have to live in, not the world that I grew up in. Looking back is useful, learning from the past is essential, but thinking that the times will not change is futile. Not to learn from history is to be condemned to repeat it.

Noise is no more an essential part of motor racing than petrol is. Have you ever seen a peregrine falcon at top speed? Speed and silence can go together, and mighty spectacular it is too!


  1. It is hard to believe, that future generations will not be able to have the joy of listening to a Cosworth DFV or the belling sounds of Ferrari. But of course - you are right. We have to think forward, because petrol won't be here forever.

  2. Actually, the diesels have grown on me so much I would go so far as to say I thoroughly enjoy the sound of them!

    I'm young (21), but my father was an engineer and race car builder of all sorts from the 70's to 90's. (most successfully in peak Formula 3000)! So needless to say I have a slightly traditional way of thinking and am as concerned about the changes as anyone.

    But... maybe we should embrace what could be coming? who knows, maybe we haven't seen the best of engines?
    I'm sure in 1940 a Spitfire would buzz you with a low pass and you'd say "nothing could beat that!" - but try being buzzed by an FA-18!
    (but I guess the military didn't impose any dB cuts...!)
    Pointless comparison I know, but my point is you never know what's coming - like I said, try showing a fighter jet to someone in 1920.
    What if a better sounding engine is out there waiting to be found...?

  3. Whoops I mean Formula 5000 - not 3000...!

  4. But Paul, I always remember Noddy Holder when he sang, 'Cum on Feel the Noize' - and you do! The day that Le Mans becomes a race for near-silent cars will be the day that I stay at home.....

  5. Ayse... apropos of Slade, I can only suggest you find a copy of "Empire and Love", from The Imagined Village. There you'll find a simply sublime cover version of Cum on Feel the Noize by folk legend Martin Carthy.