Forget nostalgia, bring me the Zimmer

August 2012

I had it brought to my attention at a recent race that I’m old. Initially this threw me a little bit because I’m only 14 months into my thirties so in the grand scheme of things I’m still very nearly a fresh faced baby.

This conversation came up because two of my fellow drivers are both “retiring” at the end of this year. Both of them are my age. One is going off to drive proper cars and the other is going off to the United Arab Emirates somewhere to earn millions of Rial drinking Oil. One of them kindly pointed out to me that I am now among the “old timers” and there are very few who have been racing in this series as long as me.

This got me thinking. I looked around the pit lane during the following day’s sprint races and realised that there were only 6 drivers in the 5 different championships being contested that day who were competing when I started 10 years ago. That’s 6 drivers out of over 120 people who were racing that day. Looking a bit harder I realised that most of the drivers are bloody kids. Although there are a few drivers in their twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties, the vast majority are spotty little 18 year olds who walk around swearing a lot and holding their crotch. The vast majority walk around wearing designer shades because they think it makes them look like superstars and most of them have product in their hair. Why anyone would bother spending time putting gel in their hair when they are going to stick a crash helmet on and sweat in it is beyond me. Even more annoying than that is the fact that a lot of these kids weren’t even alive when I started racing. If that wasn’t bad enough, most of the little peckers are beating me now.

The thing is, in the sprint championship, drivers talk to each other a lot. Forgetting that I can barely understand what these kids are saying because most of them are on a much lower level of intellect, a lot of the discussions, especially at this time of year, involve people sounding out other drivers about teaming up for the endurance championship. It works like this: Basically if you are good other good drivers approach you about joining their team or forming a new team. If you are crap, you tend not to get talked to very much. People just talk about you behind your back and discuss how crap you are.

Anyway, I got talking to a couple of other drivers. In between expletives one of them casually enquired what my plans were for next year. Because I’m having the most uncompetitive season in the history of motor racing I’ve almost considered “retiring” myself a number of times. Spending more time in the pit lane than on the track gets a bit wearing after a while. So I was quite intrigued by the idea of joining a young team of top sprint drivers. But then the previous day’s conversation popped into my head and I realised how young these guys actually were. Both are about 19 or 20. I realised I would be the oldest driver in the team - and the oldest by some margin. I’ve never been the oldest driver in a team before. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve always been the youngest. Even as one of the “old timers” I’m still younger than both my current team mates. In fact both in terms of combined experience and average age my current team is leagues ahead of any other on the grid.

I’d probably feel a bit awkward being in a situation where I’m the oldest because I’d feel more like a babysitter than a team mate. Also, being the “old timer” I’d be the one most likely to get sacked for being fat and slow. I imagine that situation would be almost as awkward as I feel knowing my current team mates are no doubt reading this and are probably questioning what the hell I’m doing talking to rival teams.

The thing is it’s a young man’s sport. Fair enough, this level is largely made up of the younger generation. Most drivers move out of the major league Karting championships and on to cars at 17 or 18. The rest end up where I am. With the number of young driver academies there are now, we are seeing drivers being plucked from Karting when they are barely out of nappies and programmed like robots that are trained to say the team did a fantastic job and will never be seen in public without wearing attire covered in sponsor logos.

Drivers are getting younger and younger all the time. When Michael Schumacher won his first world championship he was only 25. This still seemed old to me because at the time I was only 13. Then Alonso came along and won his first championship at 24. This was slightly more annoying because he was the same age as me. Then Lewis Hamilton became the youngest world champion. He is 4 years younger than me. Then Sebastian Vettel came along and won it at 23. He is 7 years younger than me. It is now getting to the stage where I’m watching drivers race in Formula 1 who were babies when I started racing. It will soon get to the stage where I’ll be watching drivers who weren’t even born. That makes me feel a little bit sad.

There surely has to come a point where this stops though. I mean the rate it’s going we will have cars being driven by foetuses and that would just be weird.

I guess it’s a sign of the times and something I will have to get used to. I’m already seeing the next generation grow up. I have no doubt that in the not too distant future I’m going to be producing little sprogs of my own. I am no longer considered a young man. I am now a proper grown up. In racing circles I am “experienced” or a “veteran”. At some point I will start losing my hair and develop a belly. One day I can start being flatulent in public and people won’t mind. I might even become one of those annoying old people who block the pavements in those mobility scooters and batters youngsters out of the way with my walking stick. Soon I will no longer be able to hold the mantle of the UK’s youngest grumpy old man. I will just be an old man.