Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Rumour Mill and Podium Boos

Well, the European F1 season is over for another year. Last weekend's race in Monza wasn't the most thrilling I must admit, although towards the end there was plenty to see. The Monza race is always a special one: one of only four circuits to have featured in the original 1950 grand prix series (the others being Silverstone, Spa and Monaco), the fastest race on the calendar, and of course the home of the tifosi (Ferrari fanatics). Given the strong links with Ferrari, of course most fans will be rooting for the guys in red overalls, and in particular, Fernando Alonso. As always, I'm a die-hard Vettel fan and so I was cheering on the guys in blue overalls. However, the high speed circuit of Monza is not normally a Red Bull strength (instead, the team is more suited to high-downforce tracks), therefore I never expect too much from this race.

This year, Red Bull must have done something right. On Friday afternoon, Vettel managed to top the timesheets during second practice. He did the same during all three qualifying sessions, giving him another pole position on the 5 year anniversary of his first at Toro Rosso. Right behind him was Mark Webber - a nice end to his final European F1 qualifying session I think. The surprise during qualifying was Nico Hulkenberg, who took third position on the grid (prompting a resurrection of the rumours that he'll be a man in red next year for the tifosi to cheer on - I'll come to that later). Right behind were the Ferraris, although not in the order you'd expect. It was Massa, not Alonso who took fourth position. So, with the scene set for Sunday, it was interesting to see whether the Red Bulls could hold their advantage, or whether the Ferrari fans would have something to celebrate.

Luckily for me, both Red Bulls had a great start, and pulled off into the lead. Massa however had an amazing start, and overtook Mark Webber early on. Alonso wasn't far behind, and once he passed Mark it was only a matter of time before Massa had to give up his second place. Of course, the Ferrari masses were thrilled with Alonso in second, although by this point Vettel was so far down the road that nobody could get anywhere near him. Eventually, Webber managed to regain his third position, and the podium finished with two Red Bulls and one Ferrari on its steps.

Now, Vettel is rarely a popular winner at the best of times - less so when he's beaten the fans' beloved Alonso at Ferrari's home race, so boos were to be expected. However, the lack of celebration at Vettel's wins is becoming a bit of a trend now, and frankly there are a lot of us who are fed up with this. A couple of weeks ago, I participated in Sky F1's 'Ask Crofty' feature and was overwhelmed by responses from Twitter fans (if you'd like your input by the way, find me @MooEvilBoffin). Among these responses, there seemed to be two main camps: those who disliked the booing of Vettel, and those who think he deserves every bit of hatred he gets (I, of course, fall into the former).

The reasoning behind the hatred goes at least all the way back to Malaysia - although I suspect that this may originate with Vettel's championships. The infamous 'Multi 21' incident has left a lot of fans very angry at Vettel's 'arrogance', however I'm sensing a lot of hypocrisy (as many of the same fans were annoyed that Rosberg didn't get past Hamilton in a similar situation in the same race!). Whether the incident was right or wrong in Malaysia will probably be debated forever. Personally, the whole team orders thing is wrong in my opinion, and teammates should be allowed to race - it's not the fault of an individual driver if they do not obey these orders (they're doing their job). Many fans aren't so forgiving, and so the Vettel hatred seems to be growing.

Booing on the podium is now a regular feature, and the F1 fandom is again divided on the issue. Half of us are fed up with it now - all of those guys on the circuit are great drivers. You can't be in F1 without at least a modicum of talent. Whether you're in the best car or the worse, you deserve to be there and I think that you should be respected. A lot of people keep harping on about Vettel only winning championships because he's in the best car - that's simply not true. The only year Vettel had a truly dominant car was in 2011 - and even then his own teammate couldn't match him. The fact that Vettel has broken so many records at such a young age should go to show that we're seeing a legend in the making - like Schumacher (also hated during his first time around), Senna and Fangio. Of course, you can't compare the achievements of these drivers directly due to the changing nature of the sport, but I'd certainly say that Vettel will go on to be one of the best drivers of this era. Whether you like him or not, that's got to be respected, not booed! Luckily, Vettel himself seems to be taking the hatred in his stride, remarking that 'the louder the boos, the better the job we're doing'. Long may that attitude continue.

Now, onto another recent feature of F1 - silly season. We were somewhat deprived of the rumours over the summer break (disappointingly, I thought), however now the rumour mill is in full swing and concerning Ferrari. Massa's seat is up at the end of the year, it seems, and a lot of thought is going in to who is his potential replacement. Many people thought that Nico Hulkenberg would be a great contender - Fernando Alonso wants a number two driver, who'll not get in his way should he be close to a win, and a younger driver like Nico would be a good choice. However, Ferrari now want a driver who'll push Alonso to get everything out of the car, rather than relying on his teammate to protect him. So, who should step into the frame, but Kimi Raikkonen. Recently, the rumour on Twitter that Kimi has signed has been doing the rounds, with an announcement supposedly set for Wednesday. An Alonso-Raikkonen pairing would arguably be the best in the whole grid, however nobody really knows how the two would work together. Alonso would arguably lose his number 1 status in favour of an equal pairing - I suspect Kimi wouldn't care either way. It'll be fascinating to see how the two cope - look at Alonso and Hamilton at McLaren.

A related rumour on Twitter was that Kimi has indeed signed for Ferrari - as Alonso's replacement. Personally, I can't really see Alonso leaving, but Dad had a great theory if that was the case. With Kimi out of Lotus and into Ferrari, there would be a free seat. Flavio Briatore was spotted at the Italian race - a former boss at Renault until the incident with Nelson Piquet Jr. at Singapore a couple of years ago. Briatore and Alonso worked fantastically well together, and it would be feasible to see the two working together once more. Lotus (formerly Renault) have had financial difficulties - something that could easily be solved with the return of Briatore. So, it might just be the case that Alonso and Briatore would be united at Lotus-Renault once more, and who knows where that might lead. It's a million to one chance, but it might just work...