Monday 26 September 2016

Modern drivers need star quality and car quality

You have to be adept on the red carpet and the black tarmac, says David Kennedy

David Kennedy

Published 31/05/2015 | 17:39

'Lewis Hamilton cut a forlorn figure on the loser’s podium in Monaco and he wore the pained expression of the betrayed'
'Lewis Hamilton cut a forlorn figure on the loser’s podium in Monaco and he wore the pained expression of the betrayed'

In a tale of two competitions, the Côte d'Azur was a good place to be Irish last weekend. In Monaco, Status GP won the GP2 race when New Zealander Richie Stanaway clinched a maiden victory. In only our third event in the series we nailed it at the most important venue on the calendar. It was a dream result and especially impressive that Richie beat Ferrari academy and Sauber reserve driver Raffaele Marciello.

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Further up the coast in Cannes an invitation to the premier of Yorgos Lanthimo's The Lobster starring Colin Farrell, Léa Seydoux and Rachel Weisz provided a window to another world. The film was produced by Andrew Lowe and Ed Guiney of Dublin-based Element Pictures. Swopping team clothing for the smart dress code of a black tie ensemble was the order of the evening.

All the glamour and glitz of Monaco doesn't prepare you for the red carpet in Cannes, even if the gauntlet of photographers don't want to take your picture, but some 'fella behind ye mister' that goes by the name of Colin. The camera clicking was louder than a grid full of V6s. The film is dark, alternative, whacky and utterly unique. That it won the Jury prize at Cannes is a tremendous accolade. Well done to their team.

The two events, as it turned out, shared a common thread that included loneliness, timing, love, compatibility and animals. Back in Monaco and the Formula One race, Lewis Hamilton cut a forlorn figure on the loser's podium and he wore the pained expression of the betrayed. He'd been leading the race by 20 seconds, a country mile in F1 terms, when he was called into the pits after the safety car was deployed following the spectacular Verstappen-Grosjean accident on lap 64. It was a no-brainer to keep the 2008 winner out for the final few laps, on a circuit where overtaking is harder than getting Sepp Blatter to resign from Fifa.

But sometimes when everything is in the bag, the bag goes and bursts all by itself. To be fair, Hamilton wasn't completely innocent in the 'to pit or not to pit' decision-making process. He queried his team's decision to keep him out, given that the tyres were cooling under the safety car. "Are you sure it's the best thing to stay out? These tyres have lost all their temperature" he debated with his engineer Peter Bonnington. That sowed the seed of doubt and the team reconsidered the call.

As in The Lobster, where they have 45 days to find a mate, Hamilton was racing against the clock if he was to marry his unexpected pit-stop with a win. Other things conspired against him. The first use of 'illuminated Virtual Safety Car boards' was followed by the the real Safety Car, but where it was positioned on the circuit threw the team's calculations. Hamilton simply ran out of time to get back onto the circuit and back into the lead.

Nico Rosberg was effectively handed his third consecutive victory at his 'home' Grand Prix but he's not too proud to take it, whatever way it's given. There's a ten-point gap now between the two drivers and to add to the ignominy Sebastian Vettel also finished ahead of the Englishman. Hamilton has just renewed his Mercedes contract for another three years for a reputed €140m. Just as well that was done before the race.

In The Lobster partners must share identical traits to maintain a relationship. Hamilton and Rosberg may be Mercedes team-mates but they're not compatible. Colin Farrell chose to become a lobster if he failed to find a mate.

After he lost the race Hamilton looked like he'd morphed into his beloved bulldog 'Roscoe'. Oh hang on a minute, he was subsequently photographed with a hareem of 19-year-old fillies. That was the love interest. There was a Hollywood ending after all. I won't give away what happened in the film.

With age come a license to say what you want and not give a toss what the recipient of your criticism thinks. 84-year old Bernie Ecclestone's opinions came spilling out in an online interview with Nico Rosberg, and the meek most definitely do not inherit Bernie's earth. With his commercial hat on (is it ever off?) he laid into Rosberg telling him "You are not good for my business" while praising Hamilton for encompassing different walks of life from red carpets to the fashion and music business.

F1's commercial rights holder also attacked the anonymity of drivers, including his (presumably former) buddy Vettel and even team principles and said they would walk down the street unrecognised if they were in their civvies.

So the gauntlet has been thrown down. All budding F1 drivers better have an agenda when they get into F1 that involves more than just winning races. Celebrity partnerships, tattoos and bling will be the order of the day if Ecclestone is still in charge ten years hence. F1 is show business and you need to be on the front and back pages to meet Bernie's criteria.

The sensation of Monaco practice was undoubtedly 17-year-old Max Verstappen. The great thing about this street circuit is it provides a level playing field and despite having never turned a wheel there of any description, the Dutchman posted second behind Hamilton. In qualifying he was less fortunate with ninth place in the Toro Rosso and in the race he punted Grosjean.

If anything, Verstappen proved that new blood is badly needed in F1. Eddie Irvine used to criticise fellow competitors who were driving for their pensions. Maybe an age limit should be imposed. Anyone who wins at GP2 level in Monaco is worthy of an F1 contract because Monaco, like no other circuit, measures precision, concentration and excellence.

Richie Stanaway has let it be know that for a fraction of €140m he'd be prepared to cover himself in indelible body art, hang out with rappers, models and the IT crowd, do handstands, cartwheels, ride unicycles backwards, get his ears, nose, teeth, belly-button and whatever pierced if it means getting the nod from Bernie. Well, we all have our price.

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