Formula One passion finally powers up

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THE final placings may have been predictable, but PETER COSTER found a lot to like as the drivers fired up in the British GP:

HIS HANDS were shaking. The adrenaline was coursing through his veins. Lewis Hamilton rushed into the sanctuary of the drivers’ recovery room where he didn’t have to confront the media.

The scowling four-times world champion was second in the British Grand Prix having been knocked off the track on the third corner by Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.

His recovery drive from last to nearly win behind Ferrari’s four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel was epic.

Of course, you have to consider that his Mercedes was clearly faster than any other car on the track, save that of his teammate Valtteri Bottas and the Ferraris.

The race finished in a clean sweep of the top four positions. It was Ferrari, Mercedes, Ferrari and Mercedes.

The Red Bulls would have been fifth and sixth but for Max Verstappen spinning off the circuit when his brakes locked and then retiring. Daniel Ricciardo moved from sixth to fifth.

Suddenly, Formula One was exciting and unpredictable.

The Red Bulls were a nearly a second behind the Mercedes and Ferraris on the ultra-fast Silverstone circuit, the former aerodrome where the first Formula One world  championship was held in 1950.

Ricciardo had DRS issues and qualified behind Verstappen, but the Red Bulls were never going to be able to run with the top qualifiers.

That started to change when Raikkonen locked up and hit Hamilton and 10 seconds was added to his first pit stop.

Lewis Hamilton in the parc ferme Pic: Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton in the parc ferme Pic: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Mercedes’ race strategy suffered for the second successive race when Bottas was left on the circuit during a virtual safety car show down when he should have changed his tyres. It happened to Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix, which he might have won.

Bottas was also unable to maintain his pace on worn tyres.

When the cars pulled into parc ferme, Hamilton’s hand was visibly shaking as he bent over the car, walking straight into the driver’s recovery room past interviewer Martin Brundle.

More frustration and emotion were on display when Hamilton said Raikkonen might have driven into him deliberately as part of Ferrari’s race strategy, giving Vettel the lead in the world drivers’ championship.

Hamilton later withdrew the accusation, saying emotions were running as fast as the leading group of cars.

What it did show was that race fans were delighted at the changing face of competition in Formula One.

Mercedes is no longer the processional leader of the past three seasons as Ferrari shows it is as fast and reliable as the German cars.

Enzo Ferrari, the uncompromising Commendatore of Scuderia Ferrari, would have approved. Once again, competitors are talking about the “red cars”.

Aggression was an integral part of F1 in the years when Vanwall owner Tony Vandervell called them “those bloody red cars”.

The chatter over team radio was blunt and to the point.

“Let’s try to be aggressive,” urged Raikkonen over radio to the pit wall as he tailed Bottas.

“Plan B is the only way to get ahead of him.”
“Understood Kimi, we are trying, but the 10-second penalty is an issue…”

“So, I am not allowed to think any more?” retorts Raikkonen.

”Aggggh f…!” follows.

Other drivers were also feeling the pressure. Sauber’s Charles Leclerc complained about the blocking manoeuvres of Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.

“What Magnussen does when you try to overtake, pushes you off the track,” he says.
“Understood,” is the response from the Sauber pit wall. “ You’ll get another shot at it”
Leclerc cuts them off. ”Yeah, but we will both crash, and I don’t want. I don’t wish…”

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso also complains about Kevin Magnussen’s defensive moves.

“From what I saw from Magnussen I never saw in my life. He pushed me wide in Turn 7, Turn 11 and Turn 12… the FIA…It’s ridiculous!”

Alonso continued to rant about Magnussen’s driving in spite of pleas from McLaren to focus on the rest of the race.

“Vai, Seb! Vai, Seb! Grande!” was the shout of triumph from the Ferrari pit wall after the German’s overtaking move on Valtteri Bottas.

It was the opposite from Red Bull after Max Verstappen’s brake failure.

“OK Max, please find a gap and retire the car mate.”
A frustrated Verstappen, who is undoubtedly the most aggressive driver on the F1 grid responded with, “Oh man, f— sake!”

After winning his fourth Grand Prix the week before in Austria, Verstappen said later his brake pedal had gone to the floor early in the race and did the same thing when he had a chance to overtake Bottas for fourth place

But all this aggression and frustration has supercharged Formula One.

It seemed the adrenaline was coursing through the commentators as much as the drivers.

When Verstappen went off the track, the commentators thought he had been rammed by the following Ricciardo.

But Ricciardo was clearly several car lengths behind and had nothing to do with Verstappen’s spin-off.

Long after the race had been run, with Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen standing on the podium, tempers were somewhat restored.

Hamilton said he wanted to “move on”.

The collision with Raikkonen came two races after Sebastian Vettel crashed into the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in France.

Hamilton hinted at “interesting tactics” from Ferrari but took to Instagram a day later to say: “Kimi said sorry and I accept it and we move on. It was a racing incident and nothing more.”

At least, drivers were showing they have red blood in their veins and are not submissive creatures of increasingly advanced technology.

What the last three races have proved is that drivers are still very much a part of the winning equation.

For Daniel Ricciardo, regarded as the king of the late brakers and the best overtaker in Formula One, this driver dominance is not helping him in his quest to win a world championship.

The door appears to have closed for him at Mercedes when his contract at Red Bull runs out at the end of this year.

Mercedes is almost certain to retain Bottas, whose contract also expires at the end of the season.

The Finn has shown he is fast and disciplined, taking pole at Austria ahead of Hamilton, a race he won last year, before being forced to retire with gearbox failure.

The next GP is the German at the Hockenheimring on July 22 where the great Jim Clark was killed in a Formula 2 race in 1968.

In those “golden years” of motor racing when drivers raced almost every weekend and drove whatever was available, there was a connection with drivers and race fans that no longer exists.

At a Formula One race at Brands Hatch in the early 70s, I wandered unhindered through the paddock where the cars were parked and was looking at Graham Hill’s car; not that there was a great deal of difference in those days, with most entrants powered by Cosworth Ford V8s.

The double-world champion, the “Mr Monaco” of five victories at the principality, struck up a conversation with me when he heard my Australian accent.

He had his helmet on and was pulling on his gloves and grinned, with a twirl of his raffish moustache, as he climbed into the Embassy Hill.

Drivers behaving like human beings is once again firing up people’s blood, in and out of the pits and in the grandstands and for the hundreds of millions who watch on television.

Daniel Ricciardo looks as if he will be staying with Red Bull and showing that he too can be as aggressive as Max Verstappen.

Not only a Mercedes drive is looking less likely for the “Honey Badger” but Ferrari will almost certainly promote Charles Leclerc from Sauber.

Leclerc is contracted to Ferrari and on loan to Sauber but is fast enough to replace Kimi Raikkonen.

The “Iceman” will be 39 at the end of this season and wants to continue. But Leclerc will turn 21 and is just as aggressive as the Finn, who was world champion in 2007.

It’s enough to get the blood racing.

mm

Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

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