Monday 18 December 2017

Sanitising Hamilton would rip heart out of racing

As the title race nears an inevitable conclusion, it's time to have some fun, says David Kennedy

Sebastian Vettel is teasing his fellow competitors with a tortuous and continuous drip-feed of victories that has brought him to within salivating distance of the drivers' trophy. Following his ninth win this season in Singapore, he is a single point away from a second successive title.

His impish grin is probably beginning to grate with his fellow drivers. He has every reason to smile but it's as if he's mocking the futility of their efforts as he frame-by-frame inches towards a crown that has inevitability engraved all over it.

How can the other drivers remain motivated when they lie slain on the F1 battlefield in the face of such superiority?

In fact, it will be a good thing if Vettel takes the title in Japan next weekend and frees up the competition to race outside the confines of points or punishments, which invariably keep them in check during the season.

Teams and drivers will still be vying for championship positions as substantial prize money makes for a good payday, so it won't be a complete free-for-all but the shackles will be removed to some degree.

Assuming Vettel takes the crown in Japan, that leaves four races -- Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil -- for the others to try and take centre stage. When you consider that four drivers went into the last race of the 2010 season capable of winning the title, this season seems like a one-horse race in comparison, but the difference is that the dénouement came sooner; otherwise it was every bit as exciting.

Jenson Button is the only driver capable of beating Vettel now and no doubt he has a chuckle to himself about the permutations, which are in the realm of biblical miracles. In essence, he would have to win the next five races and Vettel not to score a point.

Button certainly loves adversity and seems to thrive on impossible odds. He invariably starts in a relatively lowly grid position only to come from nowhere to win a race. He thrives in monsoon conditions and seems to have a sixth sense for pitting at just the right moment.

When he won his world title in 2009, he did so at the 11th hour. Maybe he gets a vicarious kick from being on the wrong side of impossible odds so no better man to lead this Herculean task.

His team-mate Lewis Hamilton is still battling his detractors as he ricochets from one controversial incident to another. It's gang warfare in the paddock and the hoodies are out to get him. They include fellow drivers, ex-world champions, commentators, journalists and officials. It's a bit like a scene from The Blues Brothers where loads of disparate groups come together to pursue their victim. In this case the knives are out for Hamilton in the form of razor-sharp tongues.

Hamilton is no saint but some people want anodyne racing from drivers who are incapable of providing it. Before these critics try to clip the wings of this natural talent they should seriously think about a career adjudicating synchronised swimming for the over 70s.

That is in no way advocating dangerous driving but it's a bit like telling a boxer to stand motionless in a ring absorbing punches just because he should feel privileged to be there.

Motor racing is dangerous, it is written on tickets and signs everywhere, lest you think you're at a teddy bears' tea party. Soulless driving run under clinical rules defies the very essence of what racing and overtaking is all about. Take that away from a driver and you have robbed him/her of their craft.

You would no more head to Mondello Park or Monza to see formation driving than you would to see Mick Jagger in a rocking chair singing hymns. If Hamilton's style is offensive to others, who is it that's in the wrong sport?

Gilles Villeneuve displayed similar bravado. The same people who are critical of Hamilton look back through misty-eyed nostalgia when describing his racing style. They need to comprehend that some racing drivers will always perform at or beyond their limit. If they didn't, they'd run the risk of being accused by the selfsame people of driving for their pension. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, 'He don't need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the paddock, hey critics, leave the kid alone'.

Sure, Felipe Massa is reeling from their collision in Singapore when Hamilton's front wing clipped Massa's rear tyre. It cost the Englishman a wing change and a drive-through penalty but he managed to salvage fourth whilst a fuming Massa finished outside the points. That's racing.

Force India's Paul di Resta is having a brilliant inaugural season. Finishing sixth in Singapore was a personal best and the Indian team is mixing it with the racing royalty. Anthony Hamilton, father of Lewis and manager of Di Resta, is hoping Force India will take up their option on his driver for 2012. The team is aiming is to catch Renault in the constructors' championship and if they carry on like this -- Adrian Sutil finished

eighth in the same race -- it is not an improbability.

Following the Tohoku earthquake of March 11 which triggered the tsunami that killed over 15,000 people, understandably the impending Moto GP race was immediately cancelled and the F1 scheduled race lay in jeopardy. Now both are being held within a week of each other, the bikes in Motegi today and the cars in Suzuka next weekend. Vettel won the last two races at Suzuka so you can be sure that Red Bull has everything in place for the fait accompli. If ever a country needed a boost after a year from hell, it is Japan. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) and Sakon Yamamoto (HRT) will both be mindful of that.

Suzuka is technically very challenging and a favourite with drivers. The figure of eight configuration offers up an eclectic mix of high and low-speed corners. If Red Bull is the sum total of all its parts -- Renault engine, Adrian Newey design, great drivers, KERS, DRS, team management, tyres (interestingly Suzuka is former tyre supplier Bridgestone's test circuit) -- then it's hard to see how they can be beaten.

Even if Vettel plays it safe and drives for that scintillating single point, Webber will be there to fill the gap, while Hamilton will be bursting for a win to shut his critics up.

In the world of GP3, the season played out at the preceding Grand Prix in Monza. Status GP's Felix da Costa won the final race to end the year in style but despite leading the championship for much of the season, the title eluded his team-mate Alexander Sims.

Conor Daly had a good run, starting the final race third on the grid. Through no fault of his own he was punted off. Derek's son has made good progress from his first to his final race in GP3. As they say, tomorrow is another year, for everyone, including all would-be Vettels.

Sunday Indo Sport

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