I have a serious bone to pick with Lady Luck. She toys with us, leads us on, and then, gives us ‘The Finger’, not once but twice in a row! This has been a fine icing to a cake that is under tremendous stress. I mean, first there’s Lew-Lew who goes all silver on us. Then, McLaren announces Checo as their new driver. Schuey comes up with his ‘I’m retiring’ announcement. And to top it all, Lady Luck takes all the championship cards, throws them up in the air with a loud ‘Huzzah’, and waits in the sidelines as they land. No, they don’t land where I want them. Instead, I get ‘The Finger’. I mean, WHY?
So, I donned my favourite Double-S Ayrton Senna tee for inspiration and sat down to write this post. I need it to calm me down. Think about it. There are five races to go, and Suzuka just threw the championship door wide open. I am chuckling like a mad hyena just re-reading that last sentence.
Well, ‘The Finger’, I mean Sebastian Vettel, is really not at fault. He did run an impeccable race. After all, the year has been one of those mad, riotous, crazy, super-thrilling, fantastic seasons – they disappeared a long time ago – and I hope 2013 is just as fun. Also, in Lady Luck’s defence, she has been giving everyone on the grid a fair chance at the podium. And what better podium than the one at Suzuka?
For Suzuka was all about redemption. It was about two men – racers who have the mettle and the talent – showing the doubters and the naysayers that they too have what it takes. That F1 isn’t just about the stars, and the Red Bulls, and the McLarens. It’s about much, much more.
I admit, I have laughed and groaned at Felipe Massa this season. A lot. I too, like a lot of other fans around the world, wrote him off, discarding him like deadwood. He has lost his touch, we said. And then the silly season began and Massa suddenly started pushing the Ferrari. It became obvious that Massa was becoming desperate – amidst rumours of a soon-to-be-vacated Ferrari seat. He was always the ‘team player’, obeying team ‘orders’ and racing for the ‘greater good’. But it is here, at Suzuka that he finally raced the way he used to. He finished 2nd – his first podium finish since Korea in 2010. But the lead-up was difficult and luck favoured him in many ways. The turning point came in the 1st lap as Fernando Alonso spun off, made contact with Kimi Raikkonen and ended up with a puncture to the left rear tyre. That was the end for Alonso who till then had a comfortable championship lead. But Massa managed to avoid the chaos and tucked his car in, behind Kamui Kobayashi and Jenson Button. The Ferrari strategy was impeccable, as was Massa’s pace. It was during the pitstops that Massa sped forward to take over and keep the 2nd spot. He kept up the pace and took home a well-deserved 2nd podium.
Massa later told F1.com: “Being back on the podium after almost two years away is just great and I feel really uplifted. They have been two tough years for me and, sometimes, a million things go through your mind, some of them bad, but finally I can be happy! It’s an important result psychologically and also in terms of my future, at least I think so!” We hope so too.
Meanwhile, a sore and disappointed Alonso came to terms with Vettel’s surge. His hard-earned lead is now reduced to a miniscule 4 points. But, he said, “…I’m not worried, but we must react to the step forward that the other competitors have made. Now we start a sort of mini-championship, run over five Grands Prix. The aim will be to score at least one point more than all the others. What happened to us today could happen to the others next time: the wheel turns and that is what races are all about.”
If there was ever a man who has much to prove, it is Kamui Kobayashi. The 26-year-old Japanese made his F1 debut under confusing circumstances in 2009 for the now-defunct Toyota team. He has been temperamental and volatile through much for his debut and through the seasons. But this Sunday, he finally showed signs of maturity, running a consistent 3rd position while fending off Jenson Button. The Brit, seeking a podium finish, kept up the pressure, constantly seeking an opening, right till the very end. It was almost a nose-to-nose fight to the finish line. But, Kobayashi kept his cool and scored a dream run – his first podium finish in his home country.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, it is hard to believe – I achieved my first podium in Suzuka,” he said in a Sauber press release. “It was a fantastic race…I had a very long last stint today and Jenson changed for fresh tyres later. My rear tyres were really bad in the end and I had a lot of oversteer. But regardless of this, I had to push to defend my podium place. Only during the final lap did I allow myself to really think I can keep him behind me, because then the best overtaking opportunity at the end of the straight was over, and then I saw all the fans and the raised hands. It meant a lot to me and I want to thank the Japanese fans.”
For teammate Sergio Perez though, the race was a combination of retribution and disappointment. There was that startling move he made on Lewis Hamilton, surprising him. He tried a similar move again a few laps later, but spun out of the race.
Dear fickle Lady Luck, ease up on Romain Grosjean. Maybe I am asking the wrong person. Mark Webber did warn him all those races ago. Look who he upset once again. The Australian managed to lock out the 2nd position at Qualifying. I bet he was excited and raring to go. Then, along comes Grosjean. I do feel bad for him. He seems to be giving Pastor Maldonado competition and we really don’t want that from him. He got a stop-and-go penalty and later retired from the race. Webber meanwhile worked his way back up the grid. What a let down. Bruno Senna made a miscalculation as well, running into Nico Rosberg and getting a drive-through in return. Rosberg retired, while Bruno spent much of the race working his way up the grid, twice. It was a bad race day for Bruno who ended the race at 14th. His teammate however kept his nose clean, for a change and managed to bring home a few points after ending at 8th. How’s that for a surprise? However, Jenson Button faced the biggest disappointment. He was gunning for a podium finish – if not a win, and fought hard and true right up to the chequered flag. But Kobayashi was just too determined. The Briton ended at 4th.
The Championship is now wide open and there are several takers. Who would have thought it? I never thought I would be saying this, but it looks like the Korean Grand Prix will be exciting.