Sunday, 25 November 2012

And so it ends .. But racing was the winner in the end.

Lewis, Fernando, Kimi and most of all Sebastian are the superstars or 2013, all have shown what it takes to be the best of the best, tenacious, single minded and driven to win.

But what of those other winners this year Maldonado, Rosberg, Button and Webber? They’ve all won this year haven’t they, arguable Nico and Pastor have done it in car that are but pale imitations of the likes of Redbull and McLaren. Are their achievements not greater for beating the class acts with inferior cars?

There is a great debate at the moment about just how good Vettel is, he’s the champion again and the first since Schumacher to win three in a row. Despite the mistake of the “comeback years” everyone points at Schumacher and says he is the modern Fangio. In fact the only other driver to win three in a row is Fangio and no one doubts his claim to greatness, the great by which all shall be measured.

So why should Vettels claim to greatness be doubted so much?

Unlike Fangio and Schumacher he’s up against some of the very best F1 drivers of the day in machinery that, if not on a par with than at least capable of taking the fight to the Redbull. This year the McLaren started as the car to beat out of the box but time and again dropped the ball. Ferrari got lucky and profited from the others mistakes but was there to do that profiting. Vettel had to work for those early season points, he wasn’t up the front and the car wasn’t fast enough to take the fight to the front.

What makes a driver one of the “Greats”? Winning championships? Winning in a car that is plain rubbish? How about over taking lots of cars or qualifying first and staying there for the whole race?

Schumacher spent most of his championship with a team mate to play tail gunner and winning with ease. They were particularly dull races it has to be accepted, with a few notable exceptions where the gear box stuck in one gear or Barrichello didn’t move out of the way until 10 foot from the line. But no one ever claimed he was a little bit rubbish and their granny with her dickey leg was capable of taking that Ferrari to the championship title. As it turns out it might well be that he is ordinary and it was just the car and team orders all along. The Mercedes years cast Schumacher in a very different light, gone is the domination and wining with ease. Now he gets in the way of the midfield drivers and has a nasty habit of crashing into the back of cars.

Is the tag of being “A great driver” just that, media hype? The media needs to hang a label on the drivers to justify their column inches. Mansell was a plucky whinging brummy for instance, who would drive his guts out for every last point. But the year he won his title the car was a technical marvel, light years ahead of its opposition. Electronic gearbox, traction control, start line control, active suspension … the list goes on. That Williams was the first of a new generation and the FIA had to ban 90% of the aids to get the racing back it was so far ahead of the rest of the field.

Yet Mansell is fondly remembered as the chap that wore his heart on his sleeve and tried his damndest to win who was robbed so often. He’s one of the greats.

Senna is always an emotive driver to talk about. The debate rages as to his greatness, I personally, don’t think he was great because he was willing to drive another car off the road to win. An act of aggression that tainted the sport for years afterwards, Schumacher took that baton and happily ran with it for at least three championships. Until the cars went digital Senna didn’t need to be aggressive or dangerous to win because was great. He could take rubbish cars and deliver them to the top of the grid, drive qualifying laps that took your breath away. And when given a front line car he became sublime, until he started to believe his own hype, thought he had a divine right to win and lost the plot.

Prost was perhaps the most intelligent F1 Driver to date. Known as the professor in the day before two way telemetry and a bank of computers in the back of the pits telling the pit wall what the car was doing before the driver knew.  He always knew what was required of him, the best way to win, the easiest way to win. Not for him the balls out do or die move the late lunge up the inside for a single extra point. He didn’t win every race but he won lots of world championships. He was dull, but he was great.
Back further and there are the like of Moss, Hawthorne and Clark. These drivers would drive an F2 car one weekend, win an F1 race the next and be pulling all nighters at Le Mans the week after. In the days when a mistake could leave you with fewer limbs than you started the weekend with ... or worse. They are all great because they risked, really and truly risked their lives to win.
 These days the cream of F1 doesn’t really face a life and death choice. We’ve not seen a fatality at a race since Senna in 94. Grosjean came close to doing Alonso a lot of damage at Spa but the high sided cockpit and survival cell meant he could walk away from an accident that would have killed the driver 20 years ago.

It was a different sort of great in those days and I think that is the problem with comparing Vettel to any diver of any age other than this year, today, here and now.

Here and now today,

Ferdinand did what he had to do, but then Sebastian did all he had to do, and that was the end of the story.

Button won, when Hulkenberg spun into Hamilton who almost gave McLaren the perfect send off after getting pole and fastest lap. Jenson has had a long and difficult year with a lot of head scratching and searching around for some direction. Next year he’ll have Perez under his wing and will need to lead the team. I get the feeling McLaren are at a turning point here, Perez needs to deliver on the hype, Jenson needs to be a true leader and the team needs to put a bad year behind them. To a large extent Lewis was a talisman for them, the man to take the fight to the rest of the pit lane. Now he’s gone they need Jenson or Perez to step up and give them something to believe in.

When Vettel got punted to the back of the grid after four corners Alonso was Champion. But it just wasn’t enough today. He has driven his heart out this year and won a lot of praise from those that disliked him and Ferrari. He’s driven with passion and humility and didn’t go and punch Grosjean when he destroyed his championship. For me he’s been the driver of the year because he’s just got on with it, in a car that wasn’t the class of the field by a long shot. They got the wind tunnel numbers wrong and never really dialled out its inherent oversteer, their “coanda” exhaust was always a bit of compromise and yet they just got their heads down and almost pinched the title at the end. Alonso was lucky to be in the hunt and unlucky not to win the title

Massa. Now sit down here, but I think Massa is the most improved driver of the year. No, really he is, he always goes well in Brazil, but this race was as good as he’s ever driven. He was told to go out there and support Alonso and he did just that. A couple of brilliant overtaking moves, giving his place up to Alonso, despite it being futile and then not throwing a hissy fit on the podium at the end.  He’s had a rough ride these last few years and I think he can look back as the second half of this season and feel like it was a job well done.

Webber almost took his team mate out at the restart and is obviously not a team player like Massa.

Hulkenberg was fifth after leading on merit. When the rain came back for the second time, a millimetre of throttle too far and he was in second place behind Hamilton. He’d driven a great race up to that point staying on slicks as the rain started and the rest of the pack went to inters. Next year he’s off to Sauber and given how well he drove today I think it might be a step sideways at best. But he also might, look back at today and realise this was a high point of his career.

Vettel needed to be in the points if Alonso was on the podium and that’s what he did bringing it home in sixth. He looked more nervous than usual this weekend, considering he’s been in this position twice before. The carnage at the start was due in large measure to him braking early for turn four and everyone getting out of his way. After that, well he drove a great race and really delivered.  Unlike Abu Dhabi where he collected backmarkers and needed safety cars, this time he took the thing by the scruff of the neck and just dragged its backside back to the points. A real top draw, not crashing into other cars just get to the end of the race, drive. I know, I'm just as amazed as you.

Schumacher, seventh, Will he be missed? No. Should he have come back? No. Was it the car all along? Yes. Is he one of the great? Yes.

Vergne eight, great drive, when bigger names forgot the golden rule that the dry line is the best line.

Kobayashi ninth and probably his last race in F1, the thinking is he’s off to Toyota and the WEC next year now. He certainly doesn’t have the money for another go and Sauber have already said goodbye. The most successful Japanese driver to date, but like all of the others he just wasn’t consistent enough.

Finally Kimi was tenth and never really in the fight for much more. Still I think he can look back at this year and say it was a job well done. A win and the next best driver after the Redbull pair isn’t something to be sniffed at. With Coca-colas “burn” brand and money all over the car next year this could be the next “Redbull team”. Kimi might well have fallen on his feet here.

Hamilton got the fastest lap on the driest laps

And Karthikeyan was this week’s last place driver. (Yes I know Di Resta is the last place classified driver, but he was parked in the wall with four tires pointing in different directions at the end).  

Thank you all for playing this year. I can’t do this if I don’t have players. Well I could still write this rubbish but even fewer people would read it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the game and that I’ve added a little something to your enjoyment of the racing this year. I think you should care who comes last each race and hope that Maldonado beats Rosberg for ninth place.  
Each Monday after the race someone always comes up to me and says, “I had the top 5 there until Grosjean crashed into Webber and suddenly I had no points at all!!” there is always a conversation about whether Karthikeyan is worse than De La Rosa for last place. Who will Maldonado or Grosjean hit this time and if they’re worth a punt for the bottom half of the top ten?
At the start of every season I pray that the racing will be good and I’ll have something to talk about, after 3 races this year I wished the racing wasn’t so close and there wasn’t so much to talk about
So thank you all once again for sticking with this and playing, sorry about the appalling spelling, terrible grammar and rampant Hamilton man love.

See you all again next year 

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