Sunday, 24 March 2013

Vettel wants it, just that little bit more.

Who would be a formula one racing driver?

It starts when you’re a child, sitting on your father’s knee hearing tales of Fangio and Moss fighting for the World championship, when you barely know what the world is, watching flickering images of supermen on a Sunday afternoon TV.

It begins at the local kart track in two stroke motors zipping round and round. Making friends with other kids with dreams and their fathers who missed their big break, the karts get bigger and faster, friendships stronger.

Then it’s trips to see local business men and “opportunities to promote the brand, sir” and the dream gets diluted  .....just a tiny little bit.  With luck, the karts get left behind and new bigger faster cars are bought. Some friends are lost, the unlucky ones who can’t smile on cue and distil a 40 minute race into a cute 5 second sound bite.

Time moves on and the dream is diluted more as there is less racing and more promotion, selling the idea of the dream to suits with desks that never move. With luck a lower championship might be won here and there, or the right suit sees the right race on the right day. An impression is made and a winning smile used to beguile the suit. More friends are lost to tin tops and racing in the dark, a select few find homes abroad on circuits that only go left.

Then it’s the big time and a chance to stand at the back of a garage watching the big boys play the game, maybe the odd drive on a Friday morning perhaps, with all your remaining mates hanging around in the other garages on pit row. When suddenly one of the supermen, who all turn out to be ordinary lads just like you and not at all super, decides he’s had enough of talking to suits and being told what to do so walks into the sunset. 

Eventually there is no dream, the dream now is what the suit says and the boss on the pit wall calls. You’re not there to win, you’re there to play tail gunner and pick up points towards the constructors championship. Now and again you’ll luck into a better grid position maybe a spot or two ahead of the star. But never think you’re there because the team wills it. No, you’re there because the star turn has had an off weekend when his international jet set girlfriend has thrown a tantrum because she didn’t get recognised in hospitality.  
This weekend saw the same story played out for two drivers. One knows the story far too well, has seen it played out countless times over the recent past. The other was introduced to the story for the first time. Money and corporate interest have over taken the dream now, you were never one of the chosen few to be a super star and you probably never even knew you had the chance before it was taken away from you. One of the suits liked the smile of your friend just that little bit more and was given that barely imperceptible nod that said “I choose you”.

And as for your friends, well they all turn out to be ready to sell their souls to get an advantage over you. No longer willing to stand up in court and tell the judge they didn’t see the glass in your hand that caught that CEO by accident. They are happy to apologies for stealing the win from you, in a room full of nameless hacks that are looking for a story to hang another race on. Happy to smile in your face and stab you in the media.

Really, who would be a formula one racing driver ?

So then, Vettel steals  gets his first win of the year and stakes an early claim on the title. To be fair the move he made on Webber to take the lead was top draw stuff and was pretty spectacular. He’d spent half the race eating the grumpy Australians dust, complained to the team that he didn’t like being in second place and could they please tell Webber to get out of his way with no success. So he took matter into his own hands and when Webber was told they had stopped racing now and could he just stroke it home for the win, stuck a set of sticky tyres on and blasted up the inside into turn one. Webber was initially rather surprised, Horner told Vettel to “calm down old man, stop being a silly boy” Webber fought back for a couple of turns, thought Vettel was show boating for a bit and was going to give the place back. But the German didn’t even apologise he just sailed off in the distance to the big silver trophy and the champagne spray.
 What does this tell us about the Vettel/Webber dynamic then ?
Possibly it tells us that Vettel now doesn’t think he has to follow any team order, maybe as his chief mechanic said on the pit wall, he just wanted it more than Webber. Or maybe Webber wasn’t expecting Vettel to blatantly disregard team order and effectively steal the race from him.  Also don’t forget the team personnel who look after Webbers car on the other side of the garage, It wasn’t just Webber who lost a win; they just lost a win bonus. That sort of thing can really stir things up in the pressure cooker of a garage.
The flight home will be an interesting one, there might well be a certain amount of seat reallocation taking place tonight.
Anyway, Vettel got the pole and is credited with the win. You might take the view he deserved the win, and that pass as I said was pretty good, but I think blind siding a man when he’s not expecting it is kind of cheap. Sure that’s what makes you world champions and all, but it never made Schumacher look all that great and it doesn’t look clever now either.
Still it makes the rest of the season fun!

Webber was second and I think he’ll be justified in feeling robbed. He was there on merit and through doing a better job on the track. When the call came that they were to hold station he stopped racing and settled down to see out the remaining laps. When he saw Vettel steaming up the inside into turn one, he closed the door but not enough. A feisty defence through 2, 3 and 4 wasn’t enough to stop Vettel who had the bit between his teeth. With two cars pretty equal on pace you either need the leader to make a mistake or catch him napping, and once passed there isn’t a lot the guy behind can do.
Walking into the holding cell before the podium Webber looked like he was all ready to smack the German in the face, repeating several times that the pit wall had called the race and they were supposed to be holding station, Newey looked uncomfortable and Vettel didn’t appear to give a monkeys what Webber thought the call was. It’s to his credit that he didn’t, because you know these days are few and far between when the pitwall calls it his race. It’s yet  another notch on the post that says Webber has not finished higher than he started since Spa 2012.

Hamilton is third with his first podium since joining Mercedes, except as he rightly admitted on that podium, he didn’t really deserve it. Corporate expediency left Nico behind him with a faster car and a burning desire to prove he has the talent to win the championship. Nico was ahead of Lewis all weekend long, except when it actually mattered, in practice and the early rounds of qualifying he was the class Mercedes driver. Except when the flag fell as the end of qualifying and the race, Lewis was ahead of him.  That’s what Lewis does you know, he’ll go out there and driver right through any problem he has, he just goes faster when it counts.  In the race he was the one that took the fight to the Redbulls, he was told to burn up the tyres and chase the blue cars ahead of him, and that’s what he did. It wasn’t his fault that the team didn’t have enough juice in the car to get to the end, the same as it wasn’t Nico fault. Well except it kind of was, Lewis did as he was told and closed the gap to Vettel and Nico was left behind. When the next set of tyres didn’t quite work for Lewis, Nico closed down, but couldn’t quite pass. Then when Ross called to say that was all the fun over with and hold station because they didn’t have enough fuel, Nico did have enough because he hadn’t ragged it to trying to win. Its all well and good begging the boss to let you have a crack at the Redbulls when they’re 10 seconds up the road and everyone knows the race is over. Beating your team mate doesn’t mean jack when you hang around until he’s hobbled, just look up the road, do you think this is one of Vettels greatest ever races? No of course not, he beat a man that was told he was safe.  So whilst I have a certain amount of sympathy for Nico, Lewis was ahead of him when it mattered in qualifying and the race. Well done for not being a cock like Vettel, but that’s how it works if you’re not ahead of your team mate when the team give the order.

Nico was thus fourth and should have qualified better.

Massa was fifth in what is turning into a bit of a purple patch for the Brazilian. Once again he out qualified Alonso and this time it was the Spaniard who got all unnecessary off the start line and broke his wing before the end of the second corner.  Alonso should just know better than to clout the back of Vettel with his wing, those things are there for a reason and they don’t last long at high speed when half of it isn’t connected to the car anymore. Anyway, back to Massa who did another fine job of not getting lost or hitting anything and delivered points when the star turn had his moment of madness.  
It’s interesting that the talk of Massa leaving any day now has largely gone. Though there are now whisperings from the tin foil hat brigade that Webber will leave Redbull now and walk into Massa’s seat before we get to China. Like Webber is going to play second fiddle to Alonso when he can’t stand to be beaten by Vettel! He always throws a hissy fit when Horner slaps him down, why would he want to swap a winning Blue car for a third rate Red car and do the same thing?

Grosjean was sixth with a better race than last week, the smooth warm track obviously not suiting the Lotus as much as the rough cold Australian did. Lotus didn’t look like taking any sort of fight to the front this week.

Kimi was seventh and he was lucky to get that. He struggled all weekend with the handling of the Lotus and just couldn’t find a balance that suited him. He was bounced back three places on the grid for holding up some one or other in qualifying and spent most of the race looking at the back of Perez’s McLaren. We might not see the Lotus at the front again until we get back to Europe and those rough old tracks in the rain. Until then Kimi will be hoping that this weekend was just a blip in the title challenge.

Hulkenberg was eighth finally getting his 2013 season going after last week’s fuel cell issue and as expected he’s ahead of Gutierrez. It’s a solid if boring result, as Sauber stick to form and just sort of tool round collecting points. Nothing too controversial now!

Perez was ninth and spent most of the race getting in the way of people, mostly the two Lotus drivers and anyone else actually racing. Interesting these are the first points he’s scored since signing for McLaren.  Talking of which we saw a return of the comedy McLaren pit crew today as they sent Jenson off without screwing on his right front wheel, I thought this stuff had been sorted out.  Hamilton even stopped in their pit at one point to tell them to get their act together.

And finally Vergne was tenth, I didn’t really see him to have an opinion. These are the sort of results that the Torro Rosso should be getting regularly but seem to surprise when they happen.  A lack of Alonso, Button and the two Force India’s would pretty much account for this result.
Our last place driver this week is Max Chilton, who is being comprehensible beaten by his team mate, Bianchi.  So it’s not the car that’s letting him down here. The reality of playing with the bigger boys is starting to dawn here I suspect. That dream once dreamt so very long ago will have to have a very strong core to keep this little boy going all year long.

So then, what do we know after two races? Well the Redbull is a good qualifying car and on a smooth track, pretty unbeatable. The only thing that might stop them is a civil war between two sides of the garage.
Mercedes have a car that is fast, but they have to run it hard and light to keep it at the front.
Ferrari has a very fast car but Lady Luck is still not drinking champers in the red hospitality unit.
Lotus has a car that has a sweet spot that needs to be teased out to play.
The death of McLaren might be a bit premature.
Sauber are still the same old conservative team of old.
Williams have in Bottas a star and Maldonado a someone to crash test the car.
Torro Rosso are still there to make up the numbers.
Force India needs some money to develop the good ideas on the car.
Caterham have taken a step back with two drivers of varying quality.
And Marussia have taken a step forward with one driver at least.

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