Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Who The Hell is Derek Hayes?

Received wisdom has it that, in the end, real talent will always out. A Giancarlo Fisichella or a Nick Heidfeld might or might not manage to make a serious Formula One career for themselves, but a Kimi Raikkonen, a Fernando Alonso or a Michael Schumacher? They were always going to make it to the top of the sport.

Maybe. But maybe not. Perhaps it was inevitable from the moment that Alonso, Schumacher or Raikkonen stepped into a racing car that they would one day end up at the top of the tree in Formula One. And I will grant you that, on balance, once they actually got into an F1 car, all three made such an instant impact that they were always likely to go far. But was it really inevitable that they would get there in the first place?

It's one of life's big questions. Is history inevitable, or contingent? Mark Lawson's enjoyable novel Idlewild (or Everything Is Subject to Change) explores a parallel universe in which JFK, rather than being assassinated in Dallas in 1963, survives in political ignominy. Philip K Dick's The Man In The High Castle describes a world in which the Nazis won the second World War and the USA is split into Japanese and German territories. The answer, I suspect, is a mixture. Many historians would concede that it was only a random act of chance that led to Kennedy's assassination, but equally, most would argue that once the USA was involved, it would be utterly fanciful to seriously suggest that the Nazis might have won the second World War.

But where do the careers of racing drivers fit in? Is a parallel universe in which, after enjoying a fantastic first season in British Formula Renault, Kimi Raikkonen got landed with a bad car in his first season of F3 and gave up and went home to Finland to play ice hockey so implausible? And was it really inevitable that Michael Schumacher would get an F1 chance sooner or later? After all, some of those on the Sauber sportscar team for whom he drove when he got his big break at Jordan in 1991 thought Heinz Harald Frentzen the more promising driver. And Fernando Alonso? A man who seemingly came from almost nowhere, with just one F3000 win to his name? What would have become of him had Flavio Briatore decided to place Mark Webber at Minardi in 2001 instead?

And is there a parallel universe where Tom Kristensen is a multiple F1 world champion? Where Nicolas Minassian and Sebastien Bourdais fought out last year's F1 title? After all, there are a couple of motor racing journalists of a certain age who will swear blind that Tommy Byrne was a faster driver than Ayrton Senna, and had the cards fallen differently..... Having said that, another journalist offered the following bit of perspective on that claim: "The fact is that Tommy was a brilliantly gifted driver, but he was also an utter prat."

Part of the problem is that some of the best Grand Prix drivers arrived there only by chance - without having ever shown much promise in the Junior formulae. Nigel Mansell, Niki Lauda and James Hunt all only really came into their own once they had big powerful F1 cars to play with. In Mansell's case, a slow learner if ever there was one, it took some years for his ability to really show through in F1 too. If some drivers need time in an F1 car to show off their abilities to their best, then what hope is there of identifying the most promising drivers in the lower categories?

Furthermore, some drivers who show an awful lot of apparent potential simply never get picked up for an F1 ride. Jorg Muller did the business in F3000 but aside from doing a little testing for Williams, the F1 teams never seemed to pay much attention to him. More recently, it has been hard to see quite what more Sebastien Bourdais could do to impress the F1 bosses - F3000 champion and double Champ Car World Series champion, he has made no secret of his desire to do F1 some day, and yet the team bosses have shown no interest. Given his French nationality, one might think he would be a natural at Renault, but he made an early enemy of Flavio Briatore - never a sensible idea in the world of F1.

Only this week in Autosport (after I started writing this article no less), Mark Hughes was opining that "A whole generation of potentially great F1 drivers never got a look in.....including Rickard Rydell, Alain Menu, Kelvin Burt, Kurt Luby, Tom Kristensen and Laurent Aiello." And while I might contest a few of those names - was Kurt Luby really that good? - its hard to disagree with the general sentiment. There are a good number of drivers who might have been something very special indeed had they got a serious run in F1.

But anyway, to return to the question which kicked off this article. Who is Derek Hayes? The answer is that he is someone whom I had never heard of, until. the other day, I was looking up some statistics on Lewis Hamilton's career for last week's article. He was a former Irish stock car racer who finished 3rd in the 2001 British F3 championship, behind Takuma Sato and Antony Davidson (and well ahead of future F1 drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Nicolas Kiesa). And then? Nothing. He disappeared off the radar - a smattering of races in the little noticed Days of Thunder Series (think British NASCAR, only much, much more obscure) and a couple of outings in the F3 Euroseries in 2004. And then? Game over. As far as I can ascertain, he hasn't raced since. Did we really have enough evidence to write him off as potential F1 material? Perhaps, he was after all soundly beaten by Sato and Davidson, but then perhaps not. And now we'll never know.


Anonymous Geneza Pharmaceuticals said...

Philosophers have been arguing for centuries about predetermination and randomness of our destinies

6:39 AM  

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