Before his untimely death canonised him, Senna's realism was commonly called ruthlessness by everyone in the sport. To a certain extent it was: when he figured out that he would become champion if Prost could be removed from the track, he accomplished this by driving into Prost, thereby removing himself as well, but with the championship in the bag. He engineered the impact straight after doing the sums in his head, thus setting a bad precedent. Such behaviour brought formula one close to being a demolition derby, but it was a natural consequence of a team's readiness to back up its top man, even if his conscience-free behaviour was at the expense of its second man. More recently, tighter rules have made the deliberate shunt harder to pull off, but as with the professional foul in football, the spirit of the thing is hard to quench. (Clive James, The Guardian, 14th May 2002).
Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix was, by common consent, about as exciting as watching Astroturf grow. In fact, the curious placing of such synthetic turf beyond the kerbing at a number of Suzuka's corners transformed several small mistakes into several very large shunts, much like Lewis Hamilton's last-lap accident at Monza. Perhaps, then, Mr Ecclestone's next plan will be to introduce Astroturf at the apexes of the corners.
Such carnage is hardly a substitute for genuine racing, but as Clive James pointed out some years ago, "rarely does [Formula One] provide a thrilling spectacle. Apart from the occasional shunt, it mainly shows you a procession. But to the fan, the questions are endless, convoluted and enthralling."
It was James, of course, who unforgettably described Murray Walker as sounding, even in his calmest moments, like a man with his trousers on fire. Observing the World Championship finale at Estoril in 1984, James also noted that "the cars all look like a bobsleigh being humped by a lawnmower." It was an observation which sadly failed to appear in Autocourse 1984's Technical Analysis.
1984 did, however, possess the virtue of a Grand Prix calendar determined by the location of the great circuits, rather than one inspired by Marco Polo's travel itinerary. It was also a year free from deliberate shunts (?), but as James remarks, "the spirit of the thing is hard to quench."
There is currently a vacancy at the University of West England, Bristol, for a Senior Lecturer in Motorsport and Mechanical Engineering. Given the growing list of refugees from Formula One, the competition for this post may be stiff indeed.