Saturday 16 December 2017

Let's hope title is decided on track, not in factory

Galling to think epic Mercedes duel could hinge on retirements

Mercedes Formula One drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes Formula One drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton

David Kennedy

Last Sunday in Singapore we were served up a Hamilton win and a Rosberg retirement. That produced a perfect storm as we head towards the final five races, although points for effectively six races will count because Abu Dhabi offers a double helping.

With Hamilton taking the lead, the wind is in the Englishman's sails, but the sea is choppy and unpredictable.

Imagine you are Hamilton: Rosberg's timely retirement gave you the desperate breathing space you needed to pounce and take control of this championship. You're in a contended place. You're feeling emotionally secure. In fact you're so focused and determined to win a second world title that you don't even allow your girlfriend to attend the races in case she distracts you. You're on the home straight and you can see that trophy with your name on it; it's a bit blurry but it's there at the end of a shimmering road.

Imagine you're Rosberg: You've shown incredible resilience and self-control in the face of tough opposition and an ultra-determined and aggressive team-mate. What let you down was beyond your control, an electrical fault. Hamilton is your nemesis and he is trampling all over your boyhood ambition to win your first world title.

Imagine you're Mercedes: You have a dream and a nightmare scenario. You have team-mates who have reached such a zenith in their internecine wars that they're prepared to risk taking each other out. One of these titans will be victorious but at what price to the reputation of the brand? You want this to be resolved in a love match and yet with every race the drivers pull further and further apart, because that is what they have to do to survive.

There is no room for emotions now, for that would show weakness. There is no room for handshakes, for that would show conciliation. They will play a mental game now, out-psyching one another into submission. They cannot yield or the chink in their armour will be revealed. They've selected a higher gear and everything is at stake.

Mercedes are concerned about their cars' catalogue of retirements. In Australia Hamilton's engine failed. In Canada, brake problems saw him bow out. In England Rosberg had gearbox failure and last weekend a wiring loom caused his retirement. That's almost one in three races in which a Mercedes car hasn't finished. With five races to go, do the maths. It's galling to think this championship could be won or lost in the factory.

Nerves of steel, blind ambition, naked aggression and a belief in destiny will propel one or other of these drivers to victory. It's a two-horse race and led by thoroughbreds as they edge onto the home straight.

Japan is next weekend. It's not a decider but it is pivotal. Sebastian Vettel finished a fine second in Singapore and Suzuka is a particular favourite with him. Could it be the top step of the podium for the man who has had never had anything less than a top three in qualifying or in the race since the move from Fuji in 2009? Four victories and a third place in five years is impressive.

Hamilton has had better results in Suzuka than Rosberg but you have to go as far back as 2009 to find their personal best; third place to Rosberg's fifth the same year.

If Hamilton and Rosberg are the new Vettel and Webber they will continue their domination in Suzuka. But keep an eye out for Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Japan, if it rains, could throw up a few surprises.

It was a great pleasure to visit Mondello Park last Sunday for the Leinster Trophy race. The day encapsulated what motorsport at ground roots level should be about. A great atmosphere with professionally prepared cars and drivers dedicated to competing and winning.

Mondello provided the venue for the launch of a book called Hidden Glory, which chronicles the history of the Crosslé Car Company, by veteran broadcaster and journalist Alan 'Plum' Tyndall. Many former drivers shared their memories of racing the iconic marque. Mine were of a Crosslé 30f, which propelled me to two British titles and second in the European championship.

Sadly the founder John Crosslé recently passed away at the age of 82. The self-taught engineer started Crosslé in Holywood, Co Down in 1957 with his wife Rosemary. 1,000 cars later it has become the longest surviving customer racing car manufacturing company in the world. John's passing marks the end of an era. He was a true gentleman with an abiding passion for racing cars. The book is for sale from RPM-Motorsport.com. The following video link shows a recent interview with the man himself: http://vimeo.com/97333239.

Staying with national racing, next Sunday sees the Irish Festival of Speed host a 'Supercar Sunday' from 11-4pm at Eastway Plaza Limerick. For a small donation you get to ride as a passenger for 15 minutes and they'll give you a souvenir photo of your experience. All the proceeds go to Novas Initiatives which does terrific work supporting Limerick homeless. And, if you have an exotic car you'd like to use to help the charity on the day, the organisers at www.irishfestivalofspeed.com would love to hear from you.

Sunday Indo Sport

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