Quaintly, you could say that what the BBC in its heyday used to call ‘this great summer of sport’ finally ends this weekend in Shanghai. It may be two weeks until we adjust the clocks to signal the closing-in of winter, but 2005’s summer calendar snaps shut tomorrow with the running of the final round in China of the Formula 1 motor-racing season. Or nearer home, if you prefer — and even more cockeyed for old timers, seeing as it was traditionally the most mud-slurped and frost-bitten of wintery games — with the final whistle of today’s rugby league Grand Final at Old Trafford. The air-raid siren squeal of Formula 1 raucously, fortnightly, punctuates the soft sotto soundtrack of summer. I have seldom bothered with it — fumes and vrooms, oil and water and din — but was occasionally told to buy some ear-muffs and go and cover it. I was there for the grievous lamentations around the wailing wall in Italy that Ayrton Senna had fatally driven into the day before; a few years earlier I was in Mexico when dozy Nigel Mansell, going for the world title, couldn’t get into first gear on the grid and just sat there with a dopey grin of panic on his face like you and me at the traffic lights; I covered Mike Hawthorn’s funeral for the Surrey Times; oh yes, and I once got heat-stroke at the Australian grand prix and, for the only time, put in a proper, swanky foreign correspondent’s expenses form which read: ‘for ambulance to airport $400’.
Bonus for those wasted days getting in the way around the pits was the possibility of a rewarding discourse on anything and everything from Jackie Stewart, a drink or three with James Hunt ‘the Shunt’, or perhaps a supper with the BBC’s appealing and comradely sheikh of shriek Murray Walker. Nothing tautological about Murray when it came to memories of ‘those were the days, my friend’. If Michael Schumaker retires after this weekend — as some predict, but I doubt it — he will obviously be placed high in Murray’s all-time pantheon. The old boy’s best evers used to be: 1, ‘The Flying Mantuan’ Nuvolari; 2, Fangio; 3, Rosemeyer; followed by a dead-heat top-10 toss-up between Caracciola, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Prost, Mansell and Senna.
2005’s shining open-air theatre was cricket’s Ashes epic (starkly set in relief by this weekend’s pointlessly ersatz Australian ‘Supertest’ contrivance), and the curtain was ceremonially rung down on that imperishable drama in the Long Room at Lord’s last week when, over a select candlelit dinner, the sponsors Aon presented their venerable, treasured Lawrence Trophy (est. 1934 by cricket-nut Sir Walter) for the fastest century of the season to Somerset’s Ian Blackwell for his fusillade in 67 balls at Taunton, a rate just below the winner’s average (68.9) of the last 10 summers. Hitting has hurried up, all right. Four decades ago, five greats won the Lawrence in successive years, reaching their century almost three times more sedately: in 1966, Barrington (122 balls), then D’Oliveira (173), Graveney (174), Milburn (163) and — guess who? — Boycott, who needed all of 222 balls.
Similarly, someone reckoned only five sixes were hit in Ashes Tests throughout the 1960s. In this 2005 series alone, 51 flew over the rope, England clocking an astonishing 36 of them (Pietersen 12, Flintoff 11) and Australia 15; and none just merry garden-party swipes, but brazen, bold, nerveless defiance when it really mattered. And so endeth our sumptuous summer of splendour and slog.