In the pink: Waters donates half of his earnings to a cancer charity
World in motion: Cancer failed to beat Alex Waters, but economics might.
With the Formula One season less than a fortnight from us, I am confident with one prediction: that between kick-off in Melbourne and the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi thriller nearly eight months away, I will not watch a single grand prix from beginning to end. I have tried in the past and failed. I don’t get how you lot can manage it. I understand the deal: you either get motor racing or you don’t. It’s like modern jazz. Or wanting a showpiece wristwatch.
So here is another F1 prediction: the first F1 grand prix I will ever manage to sit through will be the one when Alex Waters finally gets a drive. If he hadn’t contracted cancer, beaten cancer and then raised so much money to fight cancer, you might have heard of him by now. As for the real question - is he good enough? - that barely figures. His career stats have proved time and again that he possibly is. But that doesn’t count for much in motor-racing. Alex’s problem is that neither of his two rather lovely parents were born heirs to a Middle East oil empire.
By the same logic, I am not quite sure how Kimi Raikkonen made it in F1. His family’s economics were such that they could not afford an indoor toilet. Likewise Sebastian Vettel, whose father was a brickie. Both, presumably, are proof of the fact that you need talent plus the enormous good fortune of picking up a staggeringly wealthy benefactor; otherwise, you have no chance.
Waters rose fast through Formula Ford and up two levels straight into more success in F3. To get a good drive in F3, though, you need to bring a lot of money to the table. That is why one of Waters’ former team-mates was the Prince of Bahrain. Around £500,000 a year would be nice. Half the paddock would download it straight from their father’s bank account. This was not a talent show, just a competition with cheque books. And we’re not presenting Waters as some down-and-out here. The Bath house is nice, just no oil field in the garden.
So, while Lewis Hamilton is champion of the world right now, you wonder how many other better drivers out there simply never got the opportunity on the grounds of affordability. Is there a sport where the spoon needs to be more silver, which is less about meritocracy and more the economy? I suggest sailing, perhaps, though you don’t need half-a-million quid a year to stay afloat. Horsey sports are also expensive, but not on that level.
I don’t really even understand how anyone got into motor racing in the first place. We never did motor racing as a sport when I was at school. It was a nice enough school but, to my distinct misfortune, no karting track and no karting matches against other schools. Likewise, where I live, there is no Saturday morning or Sunday morning karting for kids and no mini karting league. I do have one friend whose son is vaguely interested in doing karting competitively; I wish him luck and pray for the depth of his pockets.
And I do understand Hamilton’s story, the one about the cocky pre-pubescent who tugged Ron Dennis’s arm so hard that he got his one-in-a-million chance. But I doubt that Hamilton is any more cocksure than Waters. Is Waters less talented? Because he is in that other group of 999,999, he hasn’t had the opportunity to find out.
As for Waters, he was charging through Formula Ford and simultaneously preparing for his A-levels when a lump grew on his left arm; it hurt and it oozed and when he got it checked out he was greeted with the C-word.
When he was in his hospital, recovering mentally and physically from the skin cancer, Waters made a vow: that every £1 that he raised to support his career in driving, he would give 50p to a charity, CLIC Sargent, which helped kids struggling in the same fight that he was embroiled in. When he came back to the circuit, he drove a pink car – a livery the same as CLIC Sargent pink. He turned a few heads and a few people noticed.
Would he have earned more if he had not pledged to give so much away? Maybe. Though maybe his unique deal with the sport helped his earning power, too. Either way, it was insufficient to get him the kind of drive he required last year.
And now? Now he is doing a ski season. The end of his driving career, I presumed. Beaten by economics. Until I rang him up and he explained.
He is not just doing a ski season, he is doing a season as part of a BBC TV reality series. You can watch it next October. And the main reason he has done it is as a publicity stunt, to get people to know his story to help fund his career as a driver. He has already had helicopter shots taken of him in a KIA ProCeed, spinning through Alpine snowfields. KIA loved them. The wheels are turning again, he is hopeful of getting a drive in the American Le Mans Series which is pretty much the premier league for sports cars. And yes, CLIC Sargent is still part of the deal.
I hope it works for him this time. I hope it takes him all the way to the F1 heaven where he wants to be. And I look forward to watching his first, entire F1 grand prix.