The great thing about Sky Sports’ dedicated F1 channel is their reviews of seasons past. It is a stark reminder that not so very long ago racing was both fun and spectacular. It was not a sterile demonstration of cardboard cut-out drivers at the wheel of spotlessly clean mobile advertising hoardings.
Drivers were allowed to make mistakes, be reckless, be fearless and be racing drivers. They lived by the motto: :No quarter given, no mercy shown.”
When over-zealous overtaking manoeuvres went awry the drivers didn’t taunt each other with “I’m going to see the stewards and they are going be very angry.” They threw punches trackside whilst doubtlessly making comments about each other’s family members.
The added spectacle of blown engines, exploding tyres and ensuing chaos meant the viewing public were amply compensated for processional races which ultimately saw the finishers strung out like sausages.
The game has clearly changed a lot since the 80s; a time when pit crew mechanics didn’t resemble a cross between Darth Vader and Captain America. They were dressed for the tennis court clad in shorts, t-shirt and plimsolls. Wheel nuts were not undone by a pneumatic gun but a wheel-brace using elbow grease.
The question is how will history judge this current generation of cars, drivers and the overall F1 spectacle? At first glance it’s undoubtedly colourful but competitive? When ‘fastest lap’ chasing Sebastian Vettel can pull almost two seconds out of the hat while appearing a clearly held second best in Monaco and then repeat the dose when leading in Spa, one must wonder how much of a race is run at hell for leather flat-out-speed and how much is a charade.
The history books will certainly show that the Red Bull, with the right driver at the helm, was an awesomely fast car. And, a little like Usain Bolt who could still improve for age and distance – he is set to take on Mo Farah over 600 metres let us not forget – there is no saying how dominant the Vettel/Red Bull alliance will be for the remainder of 2013 and beyond.
Following their dreary display at the same venue in 2012, few realistically believed the partnership would be so effective at Spa last weekend. The Red Bulls were similarly lacklustre in Monza last season underlying the fact low downforce high-speed circuits were not exactly their cup of espresso.
Nowadays all circuits, all conditions and all comers are dispatched implausibly yet totally predictably. And there is no good reason why the Spa form will not translate directly into Monza results. That is underlined by McLaren’s dominance here in Italy last year which followed a convincing race win in Belgium.
Of this week’s noteworthy stats: five of the last six pole setters have won here in Monza. Seven races this season have been won by nine seconds or more. Sebastian Vettel is chasing his fifth fastest lap accolade of the year. There are still nineteen drivers on the grid who are seeking their first pole position of the season.
A yawning chasm may ultimately separate them but Fernando Alonso remains the main threat to King Seb for my two-penneth. Naturally there will be the fanatical Ferrari tifosi behind his quest to take Monza’s chequered flag, the same chequered flag which met him in 2010 and 2007 during his one season with McLaren.
The Spaniard’s decisive second place in Spa came after he qualified in ninth and he finished third here in Monza last season despite starting in tenth. They are both good indicators as to what we can expect from Alonso this coming weekend as is his record of finishing on the podium in almost two-thirds of the races he has contested since mid-2011. It’s an amazing strike-rate when you consider Mark Webber is running at a relatively modest 25 percent race-to-podium ratio from his last 40 outings.
Webber no longer enjoys that benefit of the doubt and Daniel Ricciardo will be taking over his Red Bull seat. All of the media’s current hype surrounds this move. It’s certainly a serious promotion for a driver who has career best F1 finish of seventh.
Nevertheless beyond the gaze of the TV cameras, the young Australian’s performance in Spa, where he finished tenth after starting nineteenth on the grid was the drive of the day and possibly the best of his fledgling career.
This Week’s Selections (BetVictor)
Sebastian Vettel to claim pole, fastest lap and race win – 12/1
Both Toro Rosso cars to make the points – 4/1
Daniel Ricciardo to finish in the points – 6/5
Image courtesy of Octane Photographic.