F is for Fast Ferrari but also for Falsity
It has been said that the internet is one of the greatest inventions of the modern age, having transformed the way we live our lives from communication to business. It allows us to book train tickets, purchase computers, and communicate with friends and family, all without having to reach across and pick up the phone. It allows spotty teenagers to express their ill-founded opinions, it enables friendless bedroom-bound loners to socialise in multiplayer online games, and encourages us all to befriend all sorts of people to make our Facebook page look more impressive.
Okay, maybe I’m being a little too negative, but then it is the first paragraph, and it’s always good to grab your audience by the throat from the outset and say something to catch people’s attention. It’s a well-used PR technique too, which leads me nicely onto the subject matter I’m tiptoeing around in this blog post. The cat is out of the bag – we know who the Stig is.
The Stig is a legend. Currently in his second incarnation, the white Stig (replacing the black Stig, who was accidentally fired off an aircraft carrier in a Top Gear series finale) is iconic, mysterious in identity, silent and emotionless, and legendary on the test track. It came as something of a surprise, then, when I happened to be browsing the Cars and Automotive category of YouTube and found page after page of the same clip of the latest Top Gear episode, in which the identity of the Stig was revealed to be Michael Schumacher. In utter disbelief I went straight to the source and watched the full episode on BBC iPlayer. These are my findings.
Stiggy appeared when it was time to take a car round the Top Gear test track, in this case a Ferrari. Not just any Ferrari though, this was a £1,000,000 supercar, of which only a handful are being made. Not only that, the owners don’t even get to keep them in their own garage – Ferrari keeps hold of them and allows the owner to borrow them for track days. Needless to say, the car is utterly impractical for road use, massively powerful, far too expensive for any insurance company to even consider covering, and not for the faint-hearted. Even just watching the car go round the track was enough to boggle my mind.
And that’s where the doubt started to creep in about the driver. Having watched Top Gear for several years, I’ve seen a fair few laps of that track with Stig at the wheel. Driving styles are like body language, and just watching the Ferrari shoot round the track gave me the impression it was someone else driving it. The driver clearly knew the car inside out, knew the absolute limits of the handling, knew the optimum revs to change gear, knew the braking points. The Stig doesn’t usually get that privilege. This driver took a slightly different approach to the racing line too; it was – dare I say it – more accurate, more clinical, more precise. This was not the Stig I know. There’s no denying the car was awesome, and had a driver to match, and that was confirmed in the lap time that absolutely wiped out everything that had been before. But it wasn’t my Stig.
Then we met Stiggy himself, wandering into the studio for an interview. This Stig had a definite swagger as he walked through the crowd, something normal Stig never had. The body language was very different, even behind the impenetrable mask of white racing suit and helmet. So it didn’t really come as much of a surprise when the helmet came off revealing a real person (admittedly partly because I’d already seen that clip on YouTube). Michael dutifully acted the part and answered various Stig-related questions, but crucially revealed nothing about how he came to be the Stig or what it was like driving all those other cars around.
So, time for my theory. Given how exotic that Ferrari is, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Italians decided they didn’t trust a masked, mysterious, unknown driver to take it round a track. I mean, let’s face it, Stig doesn’t exactly have a reputation for treating cars lightly – he drives on the limit, trying to squeeze every last drop of speed from everything he drives. So what’s the betting that Ferrari only let the BBC use one of their uber-expensive cars on the condition that one of their own people drove it for them? And since Michael does actually work for Ferrari it’s likely that he would already have known that car very well from testing and suchlike, and I might even hazard a guess that the car actually belonged to Michael himself.
From a PR point of view, I wonder whether this is the latest recurring theme that they’re building into this series of Top Gear. Remember the Dacia Sandero? Or the web sites that Jeremy had found and wanted to share with the studio audience? To supposedly reveal the identity of the Stig in the opening episode of a new series has got to mean something, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered. I could understand them revealing the actual identity of the Stig in a final episode, but not the first. If that is to be believed, what do we expect from subsequent episodes? It would no longer be a case of getting the Stig to drive the car round the lap but getting Michael to drive it round, which takes half the fun out of it. No, I very much suspect it to be a very cleverly-planned publicity stunt by the BBC. And if the YouTube clips and innumerable blog posts are anything to go by, it’s worked a treat.
I’ll be looking out for next week’s episode of Top Gear with interest. I’m happy to be proved wrong, of course, but I have to admit I’ll have a smug superior feeling if when I’m proved right. You heard it first here. At least from me, anyway.
In other news, the steam engine that featured in that episode of Top Gear totally out-shone the two road-going competitors, just by the fact that it was steam. Glorious steam. Roaring along at 75mph with a trail of think white smoke. Magnificent. Oh dear, I’m turning into my father…