In the past couple of years, the natural previous step to Formula 1 has gone back to his classic denomination: Formula 2. How appropriate that we catch up with some of their current stars at Goodwood, the place where you name a Historic car and you find it 100 metres ahead during your walk.
Last weekend, the Goodwood Festival of Speed was a good opportunity to get close to legends of the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi and Jackie Stewart. But you could also have a chat with McLaren-in-waiting driver Lando Norris, currently driving for Carlin in the F2 championship and trying to keep George Russell honest. Walk a bit further up and you’ll find Nirei Fukuzumi, patiently waiting for his next run at the wheel of an ex-Surtees Honda RA301 from 1968. Meanwhile, Russell himself and Jack Aitken demonstrated more recent machinery from their respective teams: Mercedes F1 W07 from 2016, and Lotus Renault E20 from 2012.
All of them confessed to Iberianmph that they knew very little about racing history. “It wasn’t something that I wanted to know,” admits Lando Norris exclusively to Iberianmph. “To be honest, my knowledge of history is pretty poor. I didn’t know about Formula 1 when I was growing. I was more interested in MotoGP. However, one day, my brother brought me to an autosport racing track…” The rest is (and is going to be) History. What impressed him the most about the experience with a McLaren M23 from 1974? “The amount of space that you have. There’s no space at the wheel. It’s even worse than an F1 or F2 from today, mainly because it has the gear-shifter to the right. It leaves you very little room.”
However, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own preferences. As used to drive the first generation F1 Hondas as he is (he also demonstrated the RA300 from 1967 at Monza last year), Fuzukumi dreams of jumping at the wheel of a Mazda 787B, winner of the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours. He googles a picture of it in his smartphone, just to make things cleararer for Iberianmph. Neither was Fukuzumi instructed how to drive at the wheel of this classic jewel; just the basic notions.
Meanwhile, Aitken is happy with what he’s had this weekend at Goodwood: “It’s good to drive a car of the V8 era to do burnouts and donuts. A hybrid of nowadays is more difficult because you have to manage the battery, the temperature of the car… and the noise is a lot quieter.” Lando Norris shares a similar feeling: “Even if it’s more difficult to adapt to a 70s single-seater than to a Formula 1 car from today, it’s hard nonetheless to adapt to contemporary F1. Having to cope with all those switches, horsepower… Compared to F2, there are around 30 more buttons, which means 30 more possibilities! And with different combinations, dials… On the contrary, in F2 we have just four or five buttons: Pit limiter, radio, rain lights, VSC, page forward and page back.”
Now Aitken has set his sights on a car from when he was growing: “I would choose the 2005 Renault of Alonso. Sadly, at the moment the R25 is not running. It’s at the factory, but they don’t have it ready for a demo. Maybe next year or in two years time, it might be around here. Apart from that, maybe something older from the 70s, and taste the gear change and other things that were different back then…”
Aah, the H-pattern gearboxes… “You have to be very careful to not get the gear wrong,” warns Fukuzumi after pointing at the H-pattern as the biggest challenge of what is otherwise an “amazing experience”! But come on boys, can it be harder than a standing start with modern 2018 F2 machinery? “Even in F2, despite the well-known problems that we’re having, if you find the bite point then you get away with no issues. I find this one more difficult!” says Lando Norris, referring to the clutch and gearbox of Fittipaldi’s McLaren M23. “I haven’t been taught any lessons before today [Friday at Goodwood], and I had never had to drive an H-pattern since my days in karts. It’s quite difficult to go flat out this way.” Maybe those thoughts are related to the big question that he confessed us that he was willing to pose to Mr Fittipaldi: “How tough it was driving this car in Monaco around 70 laps?”
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is the best opportunity in the world of motorsport to reunite past and future of our beloved sport. For next year, we sincerely wish that Jack Aitken is given the opportunity to drive up the hill climb aboard the Renault R25… and that junior drivers get more History lessons.