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Where does speed come from?

Who better to answer that question than Steve Griffin?

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that pretty much everything I do in the operating theatre as a heart surgeon is timed with a stopwatch. Hearts are delicate things and they like oxygen, lots of it all the time. The heart is the most voracious consumer of fuel amongst all the organs. It can be starved of those precious oxygen molecules for a few minutes at body temperature and slightly longer if cooled in ice. As a consequence of this hunger for haemoglobin speed is of the essence during surgery but this has to be tempered with accuracy. As with any human endeavour 50% of us will be better than average at a task and 50% will be worse. If I were judged by general competence at my job I suspect that I am bang on that centre line, I am sure at least 50% of my colleagues are better at my job than I am. However in the Gaussian distribution that assesses speed of hands, I am firmly in the faster 50%. I have wondered why this should be and why it is the case that the other thing I am routinely timed at, namely driving a racing car, I am in the slowest 50% of the curve.

What makes us fast? What factors make us slow?

The imminent arrival of Max Verstappen in Formula One shows that youth is an advantage. This manifests itself in the natural speed of younger competitors. We have all shared a circuit in testing with some of the children in the feeder single seater formulae. I have marvelled at their car control and watched in awe as their cars dance around the corners, wheels barely touching the ground. The fact that most teenagers have very limited imagination and have never hurt themselves means they inhabit a fear-free zone. Couple this with the knowledge that the car has been paid for and will be repaired by someone else makes for a formidable package. In club motorsport age is less of an issue. Those of us with grey (or no) hair often can afford better machinery and support. We have members of our club that are of a ‘delicate’ age and they seem as fast as anyone. Successes in the ‘Screamer’ F3 series and Monaco Historic are testament to age not being a barrier to speed.

Max Versatppen gets it a little bit wrong

Temperament and Motivation

It goes almost without saying that all sportsmen are competitive. The maxim of “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a real loser” is commonplace at the front end of the grid, perhaps less so for those of us on the tenth row. Graham Hill’s famous remark about meeting a nicer class of person at the back of the grid has some resonance. There is no doubt that those of you who are race winners race to win and are rarely satisfied by anything less. I don’t know what it’s like to win but I imagine that it is addictive. For many racers both professionally and at club level their lives are measured in terms of their last qualifying lap or their position in a given championship. Sad but true. Those individuals find it easier to push the boundaries of their performance than those of us who are just pleased to be sitting in a racing car.

We all know the club racer who is very uptight before a race, they cannot eat or drink, they are a little tetchy. Talk to many wives and girlfriends and they will confirm this observation. Perhaps the knowledge that they will be taking themselves to their own limits takes the edge off their appetite. This phenomenon is not restricted to us amateurs, James Hunt usually lost his lunch before a Grand Prix. What he had for breakfast was written on his overalls of course and that stayed.

Not everyone is so uptight though. Perhaps one of the coolest customers was Keke Rosberg. He was reported to have nonchalantly downed an espresso, smoked a cigarette, stubbed it out and climbed into his Williams Honda before chiming in the first 160 MPH lap of the old Silverstone. I suspect that among the current crop fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen has similar levels of insouciance.


Smooth or Ragged?

The jury is out on this one. We all know that the smooth drivers like Button, Prost and Moss are a joy to watch and have had considerable success. The single steering movement at corner entry and the smooth application of throttle look effortless, like a top musician.. If you take a look at the film of Jackie Stewart’s instruction of "Captain Slow" (James May) ( - you have to spool through to Stewart - the BBC have banned the edited version in then UK) he repeatedly says that you should never press the throttle until you know that you won’t have to lift again. Yet if you watch a video of Ayrton Senna with a camera in the pedal box you will see the exact opposite. He dances on the throttle, repeatedly jabbing it, as if trying to provoke the car until he finally goes flat out. It seems that at professional level the ragged guys are the more successful. Senna was probably the fastest ever, Schumacher, Villeneuves (pere et fils) and Alonso all hussle their cars and have won a lot of races.

If this doesn't move your soul do not bother speaking to asst ed in the paddock

For me, I try to be smooth, unfortunately this is another way of saying slow. The fastest lap I ever did of Cadwell Park was one where I nearly crashed at each and every corner, I came into parc ferme in a real lather of sweat and red mist. I had never gone so fast but I just couldn’t maintain that level of speed, being so close to losing control, on my limit. I liked the lap time but I didn’t like dry mouth and the shaking legs when I got out of the car. This brings me to the next issue, fear.


During the days that Emerson Fittipaldi was driving for the hopeless Copersucar team he found that he was overdriving the car. He realised that only by taking risks could he drag the machine off the back of the grid. He understood that he was trying too hard. As a consequence he put photographs of his children in the cockpit to modulate his enthusiasm. Drivers who break their legs are rarely as good afterwards as they were before, think Johnny Herbert, Graham Hill, Nelson Piquet, they all had what Americans call a “Brickyard shuffle”. Like boxers who kill a man in the ring even when it is all over they always pull their punches. Breaking bones really hurts and hospital food is really not very nice and one’s subconscious mind never forgets. In general professional drivers deny the whole concept of fear and I think they have to put it out of their minds. For us amateurs, we do not make a living from our sport ( I would certainly starve) and our main fear is not injury but expensive damage to our cars. There is no doubt that I am always reassured to see one of my friends who is a superb anaesthetist sitting in the circuit ambulance at Donington or a chum from med school in Snetterton’s medical centre. Although I certainly don’t much fancy ending up in A&E at Louth County Hospital (or any of the others for that matter), fear for me is more along the lines of bent wishbones and blown engines.

Spending money

For many just outspending the opposition is the easiest way of going faster. This applies in F1 as much as it does in Monoposto. The big teams like Ferrari and McLaren have eye-watering budgets, the spend/success relationship doesn’t always hold true though, ask anyone who worked for Toyota during their ill-fated attempt at F1. The easiest way to go quicker by spending money is tyres. New tyres are always quicker than old ones. Newer engines and even engines that are not quite kosher are a more expensive route to take but we all know that just driving better is probably the cheapest way to drop the lap time. Having said that I know that talent is free but not given out equally. If I put Peter Venn, Ewen Sergison or Lee Cunningham in my car they would break the class lap record at pretty much any circuit.


In order to get fast at heart surgery all I did was to go through every move that I made and ask myself if it was really necessary. Could I do the same task with the same outcome by eliminating unnecessary moves? The answer was yes to much of what I was doing, I set about eliminating the waste and the speed came without me having to hurry. I guess the same is true for driving quickly, it seems that it all boils down to two things. The less time we are on the brakes and the longer and earlier we are on the throttle the lower the lap time. It is pretty simple really but getting to the point of actually finding one’s personal limits is very difficult. Also we have to remember that going quicker does not always equate to having more fun. Sure we would all like to go that little bit faster but do the guys at the front have more fun than those at the back? I don’t know.

From the above I’m sure many will say that it is no use over-thinking the situation, just get in the bloody car and drive as fast as you can and 50% of us will end up faster than average. It’s the law.

Steven Griffin

Disclaimer: The above represents only the unofficial view of the writer and not of the Monoposto Racing Club in any way whatsover. Subheadlines and captions are not originated from the named author. If any pictures are copyright and the owner wishes them removed please email us.




Heart surgery is nice and clean...or click the picture for the real version of this illustration

Max Versatappen, yesterday

At the time of writing Jim Blockley (age 28) is leading the 1000cc F3 championship. Jim Timms (42) is also doing ok


Keke supporting his sponsor160mph in an FW10. It was carbon, but only just. Keke wouldn't care anyway.

The Copersucar (named after a Brazilian sugar company) was to Fittipaldi's F1 career what the 1983 manifesto was to the Labour Party - "The Longest Suicide Note In History"Piquet always was a git (albeit v. fast), so no apologies for showing his accident

A Gaussian distribution shown with mean and standard deviation, which is of course the square root of the variance.

The easy answer is Monteca, California, if by Speed you mean former Toro Rosso driver Scott Speed.