It’s Tuesday night and my mind is on Formula 1. The Grand Prix of Japan is this Sunday and I’ve put off my usual commentary on the last couple of races. I just haven’t been convinced that anyone visits A Class to read my Formula 1 commentary. Nevertheless, it’s been an extremely eventful couple of weeks for the sport. A season dominated by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull is nearing the end and I thought I would give my take on a few of the latest topics. If you’re not into the sport then read no further, this is a long one.
The Era of Sebastian Vettel
For anyone who’s been following Formula 1 in 2011, it comes as no surprise that Sebastian Vettel took his 9th win in the Grand Prix of Singapore. He now stands just 1 point away from becoming driver’s champion, for the second year in a row. I’ve certainly had my opinions about Vettel and his winning streak, but I’ve had to eat my words these past couple of weekends. There was speculation as to whether Vettel could actually drive or whether it was the car. An astonishing pass made on Fernando Alonso, last month at Monza cleared up any confusion on that subject.
Vettel and Red Bull have been impressive this season and last Sunday’s race was no exception. Their champion driver and dominant car, aren’t the only keys to Red Bull’s success. The team seems to be working in perfect harmony. Despite some terrible starts, Mark Webber has found his strides and embraced his role as number 2. Last season was thwart with animosity between the Red Bull teammates. This time around, things are going smoother. Red Bull are also dominating in the pits, with some of the fastest stops on the grid. While other teams were happy to do 4 second stops in Singapore, Red Bull were consistently pulling off stops nearly a second faster. The Grand Prix of Japan is next on the Formula 1 calender. The team are very at home at Suzuka Circuit. A Jenson Button victory and scoring no points, are the only two things standing between Vettel and his second driver’s championship.
Jenson Button, McLaren’s Saving Grace
Sebastian Vettel aside, there may be no other driver in Formula 1 having as much fun as Jenson Button. 2011 is turning out to be an excellent season for McLaren’s new number 1. The season started with ups and downs but things turned around at Montreal where Jenson completed “the best drive of his career”. While that could be up for debate, Jenson’s dominance at McLaren is not. With podium finishes in the last 4 races, including a win at the Hungaroring, Button has found his rhythm. Not only is he driving better than his teammate Lewis Hamilton, he’s second in the points for driver’s champion. The renewal of his contract with McLaren is still undecided, although they would be mistaken not to sign a long term deal with Button. Ferrari have also expressed an interest in the driver replacing Felipe Massa. But based on the current standings, the only better opportunity would be a move to Red Bull, which isn’t going to happen.
Safety Car Procedures
One would think that the FIA, the largest motor sports governing body in the world, could figure out a better set of rules for the safety car in Formula 1. The Grand Prix of Singapore demonstrated just how absurd the whole thing is. I can’t understand why cars aren’t required to file back into order before racing resumes. Before Michael Schumacher’s crash, Jenson Button was in second place. Vettel had a substantial lead against Button, but with the arrival of the safety car, it allowed the lead to be closed as it condensed the field. Despite that, the lack of filing rules meant that the McLaren had to contend with the HRT cars who had lodged themselves in between it and the Red Bull. The slower HRT cars should’ve moved aside to let Button pass because it may have resulted in a very different outcome to last Sunday’s race. That brings me onto another event that permanently affected the outcome of Button’s race.
If you’re one of the drivers being lapped by the race leaders, MOVE ASIDE! Jenson Button was held up yet again, at the end of the race, by the Williams cars of Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado. Barrichello especially, has been in the sport long enough to know the common courtesy of letting the faster driver through. In the heat of the moment, I’m sure it’s extremely difficult to give up pacing and let another driver through, but the Williams cars were a full lap behind. It would have been a waste for the stuarts to call anything because it happened so close to the end of the race. Final lap or not though, these kinds of things seriously affect the outcomes of a better driver’s race. Barrichello has all but been quiet about his dissatisfaction with Williams, but it may be time to hand in the reigns. He’s currently the oldest driver on the grid and that’s clearly showing.
The Hamilton-Massa Crash
The big story over the past 2 weeks has been Lewis Hamilton’s controversial crash with Felipe Massa, in Singapore. Regardless of who’s side of the argument you’re on, there are a few things that can’t be discounted. The crash was most definitely Hamilton’s fault. He got too aggressive going into the corner and made contact with Massa’s Ferrari. It was an accident, he had his wing replaced and took his drive through penalty; end of story, move on. Instead, Massa decided to confront Hamilton with a sarcastic taunt, while he was answering questions from the media. Hamilton, in a surprising show of restraint, told Massa not to touch him and backed out of his interviews. To me, this is the response of a guy who knows he was at fault.
The media have turned it into a much bigger ordeal. Maybe they missed the crash where Michael Schumacher jettisoned into the air and ended his race? It’s very apparent that Massa isn’t secure with his own position at Ferrari. After a season of lackluster finishes, he’s undoubtably diverting attention away from himself. He should be worrying about his own career. The driver is being released from Ferrari after 2012 with no future prospects.
Lewis Hamilton’s Identity Crisis
Here’s a guy who’s been under a media microscope for the better part of a year. Despite the record setting season Sebastian Vettel’s been having, Lewis Hamilton is the driver who has seemingly dominated the media’s attention. Hamilton is at a career crossroads right now, he can go one of two ways. He needs to regain his focus, the Hollywood lifestyle can wait until retirement. With the surprising decision to hire an entertainment management company to replace his father’s guidance, people are wondering where Hamilton’s priorities lie. He’s mentioned a future singing career. That’s all fine and dandy, good luck on that pursuit. In the meantime, Hamilton is paid millions to win races for an F1 dynasty, get to it! If Hamilton would focus on his driving and utilizing his full potential (something we haven’t seen since 2010), he could win many more championships. It would also provide for one of the greatest driver’s rivalries we’ve seen in years. If Hamilton chooses to go the other way down the path, there could be a much different ending; one about the racing prodigy that never was. People will begin to question his first driver’s title and if it was won with skill or luck. He could also be saying goodbye to McLaren, a team for which he is currently alienating himself from. His status as their number 2 driver isn’t sitting well either. I don’t think anyone wants to see Lewis Hamilton down that path, fan or not. He’s too damn good and has too much potential. It would be a shame to waste it all. I’m very keen to see how he drives the rest of the season. If a fire isn’t raging by now, it was never lit in the first place.
I won’t draw too many conclusions about Sunday’s Grand Prix of Japan, but I’m confident we’ll be seeing the 2011 driver’s champion crowned. I expect Jenson Button to have another great drive. He’s found his rhythm this season. Suzuka Circuit is another fast track, similar to Spa and Monza, two places where Button took podium finishes. Japan is his “second home” so I expect him to be very relaxed and ready to put on a show for the fans. There’s a good chance that Mark Webber will have another good qualifying, followed by a dismal start. He’s complained about the car’s clutch all season long, although it hasn’t stopped him from finishing well. As for the rest of the grid, it’s been extremely inconsistent. Fernando Alonso has put on some good drives and the 150 Italia is great out of the corners. The car’s straight line speed just hasn’t been there and it could prove to be a hurdle at Suzuka. I suppose we’ll all find out Sunday.
Photos courtesy of Sutton Images.