Jackie Stewart, Alain Prost and Friends Line Up To Teach F1 Youngsters a Lesson

Craig ChristopherAnalyst ISeptember 28, 2011

Jackie Stewart - one of the greats
Jackie Stewart - one of the greatsVladimir Rys/Getty Images

Formula One is being besieged by drivers of yesteryear popping up to criticise modern drivers and remind us that things were different in their day.

While there isn’t a facet of life that doesn’t suffer from the perennially indignant telling us how much better or harder it was in their day and how young people have it easy, at least the F1 old-timers are guys who have long since earned our respect.

In just the past few months we have seen regular outbursts from legends of the sport—names like Sir Jackie Stewart, Alain Prost and  Nigel Mansell, amongst others.

Some of the input is important and for the development of the sport.

Damon Hill has been campaigning to improve the European tracks, particularly to improve access and amenity for the grassroots fans as opposed to the current focus on the high-end VIPs and milking the product for television.

What is mildly annoying, however, is the increasing tendency of the old folks to criticise the current drivers and how they go about their racing.

Johnny Herbert was unable to resist the urge to join in the Lewis Hamilton kick-fest and advised the young Brit to take a “long hard look at himself” after a spate of unnecessary collisions this season.

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Not to be outdone, 1992 world champion Mansell has recently launched scathing attacks on Hamilton because, in Nigel’s opinion, he’s a “manufactured” driver—whatever that means.

Apparently Mansell’s problem is that Hamilton entered F1 too young and had the temerity to be the beneficiary of the McLaren-Mercedes young driver support program.

Despite Hamilton’s many flaws, he proved himself worthy of his seat in F1 by taking second place in the championship in his rookie year and the championship in his second year.

Strangely, Mansell has only praise for Sebastian Vettel who had a remarkably similar and privileged road to F1 and was actually younger than Hamilton when he got his start in F1.

Admittedly, the BMW Sauber didn’t compare to the McLaren rocket that Hamilton inherited, but surely the principle still applies.

Then we have Prost, the three-time world champion who has seen fit to resume his favourite pastime of criticising other drivers by taking a swipe at the modern drivers for being too reckless.

He chose to single out Hamilton and Vettel for their tactics at Monza and Mark Webber for his pass on Fernando Alonso at Spa.

At face value, there’s nothing wrong with Prost having an opinion about modern driving, but then he came out with “You can get away with these things nine times, but the tenth … I’d like to see them drive my car of 1983, just so they realise what they are doing.”

It’s that familiar old “it was different in my day” rationale that is as irrelevant as it is ridiculous.

Alain Prost: one of the sport's big thinkers
Alain Prost: one of the sport's big thinkersMark Thompson/Getty Images

The problem is that modern drivers are not racing in 1983 specification cars, they are racing in today’s cars and there have been a lot of changes in the past 30 years.

Prost went on further to claim that he would have been very frustrated if he was driving in F1 today which means he would be right back where he was when he retired.

The prize for senior F1 citizen of the year, however, goes to Sir Jackie who has been compelled to come out in the press to give Hamilton the benefits of his wisdom and experience.

"I am a bit confused because he certainly knows how to drive and has a very large amount of natural talent.

"But if he is going to be a great driver he cannot have serial incidents. And none of the great drivers ever drove in that fashion", Stewart is reported to have said.

There are few former drivers more respected and revered than Sir Jackie, although our admiration for the great man apparently pales in comparison to his own. He is recently quoted as saying “Michael [Schumacher] has had the same problem, but all the great drivers, the Fangios, Jim Clarks, Niki Lauda, myself—we didn't have many accidents.”

No false modesty for Sir Jackie, he knows he’s one of the greats and is happy to remind us too!

The irony of an amateur writer being mildly critical of people who actually know what they’re talking about getting involved in analysis of the sport is not lost on this author.

Indeed, the fact that these legends are actually echoing a lot of what is being said by the amateurs is actually somewhat comforting.

It’s just the whole “it was different in my day, sonny” vibe, that is seemingly the cornerstone of all senior’s advice to younger people, that brings a smile to the face.

It’s why we love them, and it's why they drive us mad.