Tuesday 20 February 2018

Grand finale just perfect for Bernie

Bernie Ecclestone, the billionaire who brought F1 up by its lapels to the glitzy show we have today, has clocked up 80 years on his tachometer.

But for the man with the Midas touch, age is just a number and Bernie concerns himself with bottom-line figures rather than age-related numerics that define you in the eyes of others.

Endowed with the work ethic, he famously went straight back to the office after marrying Slavica, which may explain why she's now his ex-wife. Whatever emotional crater from an impoverished childhood he has tried to satiate, the obsession with making money has never truly filled the void. One assumes he starts each day with the resolution of a pauper bent on making his fortune.

Bernie is a contradiction in terms. Formidable if you get on the wrong side of him, he is also fiercely loyal, particularly to those who were there at the outset.

Modern F1 is a mega-buck business thanks to him. His energy is the fuel that keeps the sport financially successful. He walks, talks and behaves like a man 30 years his junior. In that regard, he is remarkable. It is said that some workaholics on their deathbed lament the amount of time they spent at the office. Bernie on the other hand would probably wish he'd squeezed a few more hours into his working day.

Should the youngest race winner on the grid become champion, Bernie will be very pleased. Fifty-eight years might separate these two men but that is no deterrent to Sebastian Vettel who is a good mate of F1's ringmaster. But having friends in high places is no guarantee of favouritism.

Vettel's team-mate Mark Webber is taking a risk by playing the victim card with two grands prix to go. He declared his Red Bull team to be favouring Vettel on an 'emotional' level. 'Emotional' is probably a euphemism for 'every'. Webber has good reason to think that because, to be fair, Vettel has been out-driving him in the last few races.

Webber on the other hand has led the championship whilst his team-mate has yet to do so. The team took Webber's development wing from him at Silverstone and gave it to Vettel. These seeds of doubt have firm roots.

So if the Austrian team is favouring the young German, does the decision-making rest in Hangar 7 Salzburg, where Red Bull boss Dietrich Mateschitz plots the marketing strategy for his extraordinarily successful fizzy drink. Perhaps. But if there has been a shift in Vettel's favour, it might have come too late.

Webber is 11 and Vettel 25 points behind points-leader Fernando Alonso. Fifty points can be gleaned from Brazil today and Abu Dhabi next Sunday. Red Bull has been the class act of 2010 and yet incredibly they might come away with nothing.

Whatever your opinion on F1 team-mates helping one another, there comes a point when it is imperative they do so. Red Bull could well be victims of their own success. Two terrific drivers, a fantastic car, a great team. Yet by not being ruthless enough they may have risked all.

Webber, despite having a brilliant season, has also benefited from a bit of luck to still be in there with a fighting chance. He could be the accidental hero at Red Bull if he succeeds. Good luck to him. Vettel has the momentum but has an uphill battle on his hands. Korea was unkind to the man who would be king; if his engine hadn't blown, he would now be in a different zone. Two races in which to make up the deficit is a lot to ask.

Lewis Hamilton has an even greater challenge on his hands. Twenty one points adrift, he's not in the fastest car, yet he possesses the skill-set to overcome both and still pull it off. Jenson Button is there to help if need be.

And what of he who desperately wants the triple crown? Fernando Alonso would like to add 2010 to a trophy that already has his name inscribed beside the years 2005 and 2006.

He would be champion by stealth if he succeeds. Five wins, two poles, five fastest laps, he tip-toed his way into the lead of this championship, through skill, luck, tactics and perseverance. What a worthy champion he would make.

Felipe Massa has vowed to help his Ferrari team-mate. But going back to the circuit where he himself was World Champion for a few brief seconds before Hamilton deprived him -- in 2008 -- will be painful. This is also probably his final time as a Ferrari driver at his home circuit.

Ferrari's strategy must be undertaken with measured discretion. A Brazilian criminal prosecutor, Paulo Castilho, has made a name for himself by declaring that Massa could face a jail sentence of up to six years should he deliberately make way for Alonso, as he did in Germany. That smacks of a fan who takes his day job a bit seriously. I'm not aware of a legal precedent for such a punishment but you can be sure that Massa won't be taking any chances.

And what about other interlopers at the bumpy Interlagos circuit? There'll be plenty of drivers looking to make a name for themselves, stirring it up with title contenders. Sauber has a good finishing record in Brazil, Robert Kubica was second last year. Nico Rosberg should to be up there with the best of them in the top six. Rubens Barrichello, the local lad, will be looking to impress his home crowd, some of whom have had ambivalent feelings towards him down the years.

Webber will be drawing on last year for inspiration -- he won this race from Kubica, Hamilton, Vettel and Button in 2009. Then again Alonso can take comfort from the fact that both his previous titles were clinched in Brazil.

He is the only driver who can be crowned champion today, if the race goes his way. If Alonso wins, Webber must be fifth or lower; If Alonso is second, Webber must be eighth or lower; If Alonso is third, Webber must finish outside the top ten; If Alonso wins and Webber doesn't score a point, the title is his provided Hamilton finishes outside the top four or Vettel doesn't make the podium.

My guess is the dénouement will take place in Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi. Either way, grab the best seat in the house, for at 4.0pm today the battle will commence and it will surely be a cracker.

David Kennedy is Setanta's F1 analyst

Sunday Independent

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