September 7th, 2009
09:18 AM ET

Where have all the F1 heroes gone?

Wanted, a bona fide sporting icon. Job requirements; talent; integrity; passion; glamor; ruthlessness. Must be able to drive. As the Formula One season limps towards its conclusion after another scandal-tinged campaign the question needs to be asked - where have all the heroes gone?

Legendary Formula One star Ayrton Senna sparked worldwide interest in the sport
Legendary Formula One star Ayrton Senna sparked worldwide interest in the sport

In each generation of Formula One there’s been at least one driver whose success and/or charisma has not only put him on top of the podium, but has acted as a beacon for the sport.

As in the heyday of professional boxing, when everybody knew who the world heavyweight champion was, the heavyweights of F-1 once needed no introduction.

Multiple title-winners like Fangio, Stewart, Fittipaldi, Piquet, Lauda, Senna, and Schumacher, were an indelible part of the culture, attracting as many casual fans as serious followers of the sport.

What’s more, they often weren’t alone, as mavericks like Graham Hill, James Hunt, Eddie Irvine, and others provided a fascinating sideshow with a marriage of driving talent and glamorous playboy excess.

We admired them all, envied a few, and maybe disapproved of others, but at least we noticed them, which is more than can be said for today’s amorphous bunch.

That’s not to say there aren’t any good drivers out there. There are. But there is no stand-out talent. No personality.

That’s why the eventually aborted return of Michael Schumacher was so over-hyped. Yes, he was unique a champion, and it certainly would have been good to see him pit his wits against today’s field.

However, it was still kind of embarrassing that his return would have been the main event, because it signified that the championship race and the personalities involved in it are just not that compelling.

So who among the current crop has the capacity to step up? And by step up I don’t mean win the championship, but actually put together a string of performances that make us give a damn in general.

Current title leader Jenson Button hardly gets the juices flowing. But for the controversial rear-diffuser advantage his Brawn GP team had at the beginning of the season, I feel he probably wouldn’t be in the position he is, which also goes for his teammate, Rubens Barrichello.

At 22, Red Bull’s Sebastien Vettel has shown the potential to be a serious player. But, with the best will in the world, his season has been a touch erratic, and his ultimate success is surely in the more distant future, and perhaps with a different team.

Lewis Hamilton? Well, we all know the trials and tribulations the defending champion went through, which is why he’s looked so dejected and demoralized for much of the campaign.

Granted, he’s promising a late season surge, but he has an awful lot of ground to make up to regain the credibility he once had as the bright young thing and face of the future in the sport.

I could go on, but you’re surely getting my drift. Tennis has Federer, Nadal, Murray, and the Williams sisters.

Golf has Tiger Woods. Football has Brazil, Man. United, Barca and Real Madrid. Formula One has...... no-one!

And never mind tinkering with the rules and finances, the lack of a hero is Formula One’s greatest problem at the moment. Because if you don’t care WHO wins, surely HOW they win is irrelevant.

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Filed under:  Motorsport
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Oskars

    Spot on! I can hardly make myself watch since MS is retired. all the current guys are average and I need someone i believe is better than most, genuine, unique. Otherwise it's just cars, with drivers. And it's not enough!

    September 7, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  2. Reyaaz

    Well written Terry. I think you captured the zeitgeist of my current feeling towards F1. I've always had at least 1 driver that I "wanted" to win – from Jones to Piquet to Prost to Schumacher -- there was always someone to root for. Still watch every race and track the never ending news and rumours - but the driver with he x-factor is missing - couple of races from Lewis in 2008 were mega, as was Vettel in his two wet wins, but the enthusiasm has to be conjured up. At least there's the never ending politics – which will be poorer with the departing clever Max.

    September 7, 2009 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  3. Paul Fortune

    What utter nonsense-your article shows an obvious lack of knowledge of the sport that I have been following for 35 of my 50 years!
    The Michael Schu. years were tedious and he was hardly a good,clean driver-remember when he deliberately knocked out Damon Hill to win the Championship...?
    Most of the F1 afficiando's I know in the UK and the Far East actually stopped watching for the last 4 years Michael was in the sport,because he killed it off.
    What we now have,apart from the obvious brilliance of Lewis Hamilton's driving skills,is a championship that is wide open,far more interesting,and with all of the old guard,i.e Ferrari and McLaren/Renault,struggling to keep up-
    what could be more interesting that that?- And who could want more from a Champion than a poor black kid from Stevanage,who has struggled all the way up to become World Champion...?
    There is your Tiger Woods.
    Thank you.

    September 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  4. Roshan Fernando

    Agree totally. F1 is simply boring. By the way Terry you missed out mentioning the other 'motor' sport – Moto GP. Now for me, there lies the real entertainment and you get true charisma as well. Rossi, Lorenzo, and even old timers like Capirossi bring out so much more emotion than any F1 driver today.
    To me the luminousity of F1 went out with the great Senna. Yes Schumacher brought it back somewhat but not quite the same. I thought Alonso might rise but he has faded.

    September 9, 2009 at 4:28 am | Reply
  5. Nemosus

    They are all gone, so should the F1. How many tons of CO2 is a GP?

    September 9, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  6. Chris Bonmac

    Ayrton Senna is the Best!!!!

    September 10, 2009 at 4:18 am | Reply
  7. F1 affciando

    Now days its not about the diver but about the car he drives, a Jenson Button in a Brawn GP car is faster not coz of his driving skills but for the car. I agree Schumacher had a superior car but he was a rithless driver and a person who brought a whole generation of fans to F1 not coz he was winning even whne he was in a slightly disadvantage position but coz he was a person whom every body wanted to beat.

    September 10, 2009 at 5:46 am | Reply
  8. malignant

    I totally disagree. Granted this year may have been marred by both controversy and a tumultuous economy but the talent seems to be improving and hence the higher levels of competition. Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Button and Raikonnen would have provided much excitement had their cars been equally competetive.

    As for Hamilton. Give the guy a break! He's still young and who knows what goes on behind the scenes.

    September 10, 2009 at 10:43 am | Reply
  9. Muus

    I agree. After Senna's death, it just wasn't the same anymore. Yes we had Schumacher, Hill, Alesi, Berger and others, but the Spice was gone.

    I much rather watch Roger Federer or Michael Phelps than F1.... too bad, I grew up on watching F1 on Sundays but it lost it's Magic.

    September 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  10. nwinburn

    Even IndyCar is more interesting... it has Danica, Helio, and a few others!

    September 10, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Reply
  11. Joao D'Alessandro

    Ow man!
    F1 isn't quite the same anymore.
    I grew up watching F1 on sundays. First there was Piquet. We had someone to root for, a national idol even though he was not a role model outside the tracks and then there was someone that we could really fall in love with: Ayrton Senna. Of course there were others, Schumacher, Prost, Berger and there were elegance. Nowadays a bunch of kids, very disrespectful of the F1 tradition and as much as I agree that the chances now are open for any driver and his car I still miss that pilot who would just shine with his maneuvers, rain or shine. Yes, for me F1 died with Senna, it was never the same. Schumacher as a good driver but with no flare. He was just a goal oriented driver, ruthless. One of the greatest champions of the tracks but failed to conquer fans and hearts. Well written article! Congratulations!

    September 10, 2009 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  12. Mark Williams

    Why the picture of Senna? He was a hero, and made some mistakes, like other too.

    September 10, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  13. Mekitarian

    I have to agree with Terry, although I think that this years struggle and dispute between new drivers and teams have brought back some heat to F1. But we are far away from the golden years when we saw Emmo,Senna, Prost, Mansel, Berger making a diference inside and out of track...And I´m sorry, but I believe that MS, Hamilton, Alonso have to show a lot more driving (and personality) to equal the great ones and become the true icon of a F1 champion.

    September 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  14. Mark

    Put Alonso in a competitive car and we may well have a hero.

    September 15, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  15. jc

    i have to disagree terry iam irish and kimi is my hero like padraig harrington.kimi also gives it everything.also before alonso came into f1 spanish people didn't like f1 but now he is a massive hero in spain but ido agree that is no longer as many guys who are given hero status all over the world

    September 16, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  16. frank v

    heidfeld, kubica, raikonnen, to name a few, these drivers are so boring, robotic like in there media contacts. bring emotion in f1. bring character's back. return action on the track. In germany they have DTM, often exicting to watch. MotoGP will be over once Valentino will stop. F1 must stop being a nice afternoon for ecexutives and celebritys. It;s just a relation/networking event. The only real person is webber. Rosberg seems ok to.

    September 17, 2009 at 7:52 am | Reply
  17. Dave Wallace

    Terry, I congratulate you on a precise article. You have got it totally nailed despite what Paul Fortune might think. I have been following F! since 1969 and it just gets more boring by the year, especiall since Schumi retired. At least he was a great champion, which is more than Hamilton or Button will ever be. Problem is the British press build their 'hero's' up to the point where it becomes pathetic – regardless of the amount of talent, or lack of it. Well done for a fantastic article!!

    September 17, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  18. jose morales

    right on Terry. you really hit the spot. gone are the days of Schumi, Mika, Nigel and Ayrton. F1 is getting to be boring. Drivers nowadays lack the passion of drivers of old. wish we can bring them back and bring life back to the sport.

    September 23, 2009 at 5:31 am | Reply
  19. StephanJade

    Interesting story as for me. I'd like to read a bit more concerning that theme.

    October 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  20. SENNA fan

    You are so right Terry. Senna was truly a great driver and person. in every sport you get your greats. But these days with all the young guns in the F1 and they want to do what they want. it makes you really sad to see your favorite sport go down the ladder as the best show ever. Their is a lot of young guns, if given a proper package that would open up the champion ship so wide that you will have to wait till the last race of the season to see who will be the winner. in one way it is better for the F1 if all the drivers are so close in the championship. but from my point of view, F1 has taken a big down fall.

    December 19, 2009 at 5:25 am | Reply

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