Honestly, I am mortified. Not only did I miss, what could turn out to be one of the most exciting and controversial races this season (well, it is just Race 2), but I have also managed to delay the race review.
Not that there is any point really. I am sure all of you have ruminated and analysed the Sepang race so much that you would probably throw a shoe at me if I started down the race review path.
So, I will save you all the effort. In all honesty though, I have a good excuse. My real life intruded in a beautiful way this Sunday. I was away at a baby shower for one of my dearest friends. It has been long time in coming, so I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Not for all the fingers, wrong pitstops, and multi-21s in the world. Though, I must admit to a tiny pang of longing.
This brings me to the post. I can just jump on to the team orders bandwagon – there has been a lot written about it, and a lot of it beautifully argued. But I won’t. Instead, I do think this is a time to talk about Formula 1 and what the sport means to me, the fan.
F1 is about the business of racing for Bernie Ecclestone. It is about points and championships for the teams and the drivers. For me, the little fan who spends a lot of money to watch a race, standing under the hot sun or pouring rain (depending on which side of the world you are watching from), it is about pure driving, pure racing. It is about the song of the F1 engines ringing through a circuit – new or old. It is about watching the best drivers in the world fight for position, to go for a gap no matter what. It is about seeing the smiles of the winners on the podium, the spray of the champagne, the national anthem. It is about fighting over why one driver is better than the rest. It is about rivalries, technology, tyre-wear and passes. It is about pure, unadulterated competition.
F1 is about the racers, men with undeniable talent, driven by a need to win. We adore them, hate them, criticize them, and scrutinize their every move, successes and failures.
But last Sunday at Sepang, F1 became about something else altogether. A man’s overpowering need to be on the podium exposed the underbelly of this sport I love. Sebastian Vettel’s crime was he ignored team orders to pull back. He took advantage of his teammate Mark Webber who followed orders and powered down, conserving the tyres. He ‘stole’ Webber’s hard-earned, well-fought win.
Meanwhile, an unhappy Lewis Hamilton took the 3rd spot, another result of team orders. Nico Rosberg obviously had the power and the pace to pass Hamilton and take what could have been his place on the podium. Team orders came into play once again. Rosberg listened.
Both Vettel and Hamilton later hinted that they would make it up to their teammates. But is this what I want? Do I want sportsmen to bandy about their wins, stealing them from teammates, gifting wins to make up for past wrongs? What happened to pure racing?
Perhaps one of the most relevant questions asked was during the post-race conference when Livio Oricchio, a journalist from O Estado de Sao Paulo asked: What do you think the fans of Formula One will think when they hear or they read that the winner is saying “I’m sorry to win, the second should be here and the third says “I’m sorry to be here my team-mate that is fourth should be here”? Vettel’s reply was an arrogant one: “I think it’s great for you because you have a lot to write about. We have quite a while until the next race it’s good for you, I’m sure you don’t get bored. I didn’t say, I think generally, you know I’m not sorry to win, I think we both of us drove a strong race today but Mark should have won. I did the mistake. I can only repeat it now. People can think in a way they want, they will always make up their own story, but as I said I wasn’t aware until we took off our helmets really, so I’m sorry for that. But surely I will try to make up, first of all explain downstairs what happened.”
Hamilton on the other hand simply said he had nothing said.
But Webber answered: “As I say, I’m a big sports fan and the fans of any sport will want it to be a perfect world always. We want it to be pure, we want it to be as we see – football, boxing, cycling, whatever. We want it to be real. But there is an element of naivety… for me watching some sport as well and in the case of some Formula One fans watching this situation. It’s impossible for everybody to understand everything and that’s the same for me watching a football match or a Champions League match. Sometimes there are things you don’t understand because sometimes there is naivety.”
I agree. It is my naivety. It is perhaps the price I pay for watching a ‘team’ sport, a price I pay for following a sport with high stakes.
But is it too much to ask? Is it too much to ask for pure racing?