Nov 3, 2008

F1 2008 Season - Endnote

Watching sport, you often hear some cliches done to death: 'this is going down to the wire', 'it isn't over till the fat lady sings (or 'the last ball', or 'the chequered flag', or 'the final whistle' - depending), 'he needs a miracle', 'it'll boil down to who holds their nerve'...

If you watched what went down yesterday, you'd know what all these phrases really mean. A championship spanning 18 races over 8+ months, was finally decided in it's dying seconds! The distance between agony and ecstasy, triumph and disappointment - was just 1 (final) corner. Neither the drivers, nor the commentators, and definitely not the viewers - were sure who was Champion till some time after it was really decided. A fitting end to a season where no one really dominated, and 4 different drivers held the lead at different points. For perspective, the top 2 constructors (had McLaren not been disq.) had a tally of ~420 in 2007. This season, their cumulative tally was down ~100 points.

I've been following F1 for more than 10 years now, and had completely lost interest when Schumi was challenging the 'theoretically quickest season win'. Ya, we like watching wonderful, dominant displays by great sportsmen, but there HAS to be a contest to truly enjoy. Those seasons were like Ali punching a bag, or Tendulkar scoring 400 against Bermuda. The last couple of seasons have witnessed real contests, and not surprisingly, revived F1 passions! I'd kinda expected this when Schumi retired, with Kimi and Alonso set to occupy the red and the silver arrows respectively, but was definitely not prepared for Lewis Phenomenon!

First, lemme address the conspiracy theorists:
1. Glock edged out Lewis in the pits once. If he wanted to let Lewis win, all he had to do was spend another tenth or two during his pit stop. He didn't.
2. The rain returned with 7 laps to go. Lewis was comfortably running 4th, and Glock was well behind in 6th. Lewis went in, along with the rest of the top 5, for wet tyres. Glock didn't. He tried to steal a few positions, and almost pulled it off. If he didn't really want to get ahead of Lewis, he'd have pitted for wets just like all the others in front of him. He didn't.

The fact is: Lewis was always set to finish 4th or 5th (which was all he needed). Glock's late gamble made it very exciting, way more dramatic than it really should've been. But in the end, his gamble just didn't pay off and the 'normal' result was registered. And Lewis won the Championship. Fair and square. Having done just enough, in a difficult car with a tired engine. Mind you, this is the same guy who tried many stupid stunts earlier this season. Running 4-5th, driving conservatively, and waiting for the last corner to seal it - are not things that come naturally to him. But he did the job he had to do. I hope some of you try and appreciate that.

Some of my friends don't like the fact that I switched loyalties from Ferrari to McLaren. Well, actually, I didn't. I was, along with the rest of you - a Schumi fan. Tell me honestly - if Schumi had switched to, say, Red Bull for his last season or two - where'd your loyalties lie? Alonso fans - did you ditch him when he left Renault for McLaren? 

My loyalties lie with the driver. I don't really give a damn which logo the car carries. And among the drivers -  Lewis is the one I chose to back, for he is bloody good and destined for greatness (more on this a little later). Raikkonen - was always too 'dry' for my liking. He has the talent, but not the head (as he demonstrated this season - somnabulating through most of it). Alonso - as a driver, I admire him a helluva lot. But when he speaks, I don't like the foul smell. Massa - was bested by his team-mates (Schumi, then Kimi) several times, and that's just not good enough. Yes, I respect him a lot for his showing this season, but he'll have to sustain this for at least another season or two to truly be considered a contender for greatness. The jury's still out on this one.

Now, back to Lewis. Let's consider what marked the greats before him - Senna and Schumi.

1. They won lotsa races and titles. Ya, sure. So did many others. Lewis is doing this too, and will continue to. But there's a lot more to it.
2. They were not popular on the track. Brilliant, but brash and ruthless. When questionable rules got in the way to victory, they happily broke them - and were penalized. They did whatever it took to stamp their authority on the track. Lewis does this too.
3. They pulled out the rabbits during qualifying, flattering inferior cars, and out-doing their team-mates. Lewis does this too.
4. Schumi was called the Regenmeister. And Senna, in a wet race, lapped Schumi despite a weaker car. In wet conditions, they showed their true class. Lewis does this too.
5. They consistently out-performed their team-mates, who had the same cars. Lewis does this too (he matched his 2-time world champion team-mate in his rookie year, and scored almost TWICE as many points as his team-mate this year)
6. They energized teams. They won races in cars that were far from the best, and somehow managed to ensure everyone around them rose to the challenge. Lewis does this too, and I'm sure it will become more evident in the future.

Among the current lot, Alonso is probably the only one who fits all the above criteria. But, he settles for risk-free points rather than going all-out for a win. He doesn't handle failures with grace, and doesn't always say the 'right thing'. Still, I believe this will be remembered as the era of Alonso and Hamilton. It's only begun.

Next year, we should have at least 3 competitive Ferraris/McLarens. We should have a competitive Alonso, probably in a Renault. We may see Kubica mount a serious challenge in his BMW. And Vettel - in a Red Bull designed by Newey with bottomless Red Bull cash reserves - may just be the joker in the pack. And of course, there might be a rookie somewhere - ready to challenge the established order from the word go (long shot, this one, though).

The last few seasons - the guy who won the first race in Melbourne - went on to take the title at the end! With KERS, and all the other changes lined up, and with so many drivers in with a real chance - I can hardly wait for March 26, 2009!

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