F1 Focus – David Hobbs

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The start of the 2016 F1 season marks 40 years since the respected motor sport commentator, analyst and broadcaster made his television debut. Whilst still racing in 1976, David was invited to cover the Pocono 500 with Ken Squire on CBS.

A life in the media wasn’t something he had planned, yet his diverse and colourful racing career made him the perfect candidate to commentate on a wide range of motor racing across America.

“When the racing stopped, the TV kept going, now here I am in 2016, 40 years this year since I did my first broadcast.”

Covering the Melbourne Grand Prix for NBC in America meant David spent the weekend pulling all-nighters with the 15 hour time difference. “We went on the air at midnight and we came off the air just before 4am” he said of the race coverage at Albert Park.

A 3 hour flight back from Connecticut to his home in Florida ensured he was back in time for Sunday lunch. Once David had time to catch up with his family (and some sleep) he spoke to me to reflect on his thoughts on Fernando Alonso’s crash.

“It was a particularly violent crash and he’s extremely lucky . . . Another couple of inches and it could have been all over”.

The accident sparked huge debate amongst F1 fans on the validity of the ‘Halo’ concept, providing head protection for the open cockpit and will undoubtedly be the main topic of debate for the coming months.

“I think that Halo is a good idea . . . If you remember, many years ago people said that mandatory fitting of seatbelts in cars would be terrible and lethal because people would get trapped and when the car caught fire they wouldn’t be able to get them out.”

For F1 fans of the modern era, Jules Bianchi’s death was their ‘Senna moment’. The death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994 started a revolution in driver safety. Radical changes in protocol meant that Bianchi’s death was the first we had seen in F1 for over 20 years.

David reminds us that there will always be an element of danger and risk in motor racing and that we shouldn’t expect this to be the answer. Instead, it should provoke more radical thinking in the practicalities of the safety feature.

“Halo would not have saved Bianchi because the Halo will have limited strength . . . Those are the kinds of things they are going to have to weigh up when they design and manufacture it”. Halo is not a matter of divine intervention, more a step in the right direction.

Prior to his F1 debut in 1965, David also experienced a life or death scenario – albeit not on the track…

“I was going to drive for Tim Parnell’s Lotus BRM at Clermont in the French Grand Prix but to get the car there I had to tow it there in my road car.

I was on the way to Tim Parnell’s factory down near Slough and a laundry van was coming the other way. It stopped to turn right into a yard and unfortunately didn’t see me coming and I slammed into the side of it and broke my arm, my nose, my jaw… so that was my formula one debut.”

Despite David being hospitalised and understandably shaken by such a dramatic introduction to F1, I was surprised to hear of the repercussions…

“I was in hospital for a couple of weeks and it took some time for my arm to heal so about 5 weeks later I had my first race. I went to Croft and won in the Lola T70, so that was a good comeback.”

David’s stock rose further in 1966 at the Syracuse Grand Prix where he finally managed to drive Tim Parnell’s BRM car in his non-Championship F1 debut.

“I drove Tim’s car there in Syracuse and came third behind the two factory Ferrari’s with Surtees and Bandini”.

This was a tremendous highlight for Hobbs, standing on the podium with British F1 legend John Surtees and Lorenzo Bandini, the Italian driver who tragically died only a year later at the Monaco Grand Prix.

“I thought it would lead to much bigger and better things.

I didn’t really follow up enough myself, I was assuming that everyone else would call me because I came 3rd on my debut.”

And why not? How did a British driver who achieved a podium on his Formula 1 debut behind the two factory Ferrari’s not attract the attention of the other teams? It certainly reminds us that F1 was just as competitive then as it is now.

This was highlighted at his debut in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July 1967, a race won by Jim Clark, but that also included Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Bruce McLaren. Hobbs finished a respectable 8th.

“I only did a handful of Grand Prix but in the modern system I would have got points”.

Despite only competing in six Championship Grand Prix, David Hobbs achieved five top-ten finishes between 1967 and 1974. Perhaps if he had pushed himself harder to get the attention of the bigger teams we may be talking about a former British Formula One World Champion.

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