How the Bull Beat the Wolff and the GOAT

Our guest columnist Jo Carson gives her brilliant and humorous take on the formula One motorcading deciding thriller at Abu Dhabi earlier this month. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen edged past Mercedes ace Lewis Hamilton on the last lap to win the race and the title in one of the greatest finishes in F1 racing history and at Jo’s house you could cut the tension in the air with a knife.

Jo is a highly respected journalist/reporter and published author who I had the privilege to work with at the Marlborough Express newspaper in Blenheim back in the day. Jo is now based in the Victorian city of Geelong, Australia and is an avid sports fan with motor racing and cricket particular passions.

The GOAT of the F1 paddock had the world championship stolen from him, I saw it with my own eyes. I was laughing at the time.

I’m not laughing now, I’m spending all my time saying “You’ve got the wrong guys, guys,” and following up with all the reasons the result was just fine. Not for Toto Wolff, but I don’t care about the Wolff. I don’t trust him or Mercedes’ sudden late-season burst of speed.

I was laughing was because I’ve never seen my husband so mad. Really, properly furious. His mouth went so dry he couldn’t articulate, and he almost knocked over his armchair as he flung himself out of the room in disgust. Things were almost broken. I was almost scared, but it was too funny.

Telling, too, because it transpires that he wasn’t so much a Lewis fan, as Not a Max one. And not just because of that one infamous brake test. His lineage and his background were questioned. His Dad came up a lot. Max’s Dad, in case you weren’t aware, has established form for mishandling women, and Tiger Dad-ing his son. He wouldn’t talk to him, apparently, for days if he lost a race for making a mistake. As a kid. Racing karts.

That wins some empathy points with me, but not my husband. Red Bull boss Christian Horner was dragged into it for playing away with a Spice Girl while his wife was pregnant. It’s ironic how much of a red bull the boss and the redhead had turned my hubby into.

It’s not that I didn’t want Lewis to get his record 8th championship. I’d been starting to like the guy. He’d been using his voice in ways that were making up for the ridiculous way he dresses. He still had his mother figure minder shadowing his every move, but bless, he’d been showing a bit of maturity lately. And no more so than when he gracefully accepted his defeat after the last race of this year – as the GOAT he is, and not as a kid.

The universal reaction has been all about favouritism and emotions… and crap are they running high. I agree the result didn’t feel that good, because we all love a tidy fairytale ending. But I never had a problem with why the winner won. And despite Lewis since undoing all the good adulting he did on the podium, egged on by a Wolff pretending there’s no egg on his own face, I have not changed my mind.

Because yes, Lewis was robbed. But not by Latifi. Nor the race directors. He was not robbed by Max, nor by Red Bull. He was robbed by his own team.

"When it came to safety car strategy, Red Bull played a blinder. They got a grip – the sort of grip that outplays straight-line speed. Mercedes did nothing. They just kept running"

Mercedes played that race like sheep in a Wolff’s clothing. They weren’t desperate enough and they certainly weren’t bullish enough. They played safe the whole way, and were out-charged.

They could, and did, rant about unfairness, the race stewards, the other driver. They sulked and threatened that their star player might not come back to play next year. I care not. It’s all just strategy – and it’s a bit late. Strategy is something they should’ve nailed during that race.

Because here are some facts. The fastest two drivers were running one-two (in order of speed) six laps out from the end. Had there been no safety car, that would’ve been the result, no question. But safety cars are not a new concept. They happen all the time. And they always change the race. They’re a chance to even the playing field. To get a grip on your opposition.

When it came to safety car strategy, Red Bull played a blinder. They got a grip – the sort of grip that outplays straight-line speed. Mercedes did nothing. They just kept running.

Now let’s get the back markers out of the way. Back markers mix up the order of play under a safety car. They’re usually allowed to pass the safety car so the front-end order is restored before the race starts again. But this can create an uncontrolled safety environment, and with stewards still all over the track, it is not only acceptable, but responsible, to put safety first and stop them passing until it’s safe.

This would have raised no eyebrows at all if it wasn’t for the fact that the laps were ticking down. One more safety car lap to untangle backmarkers was a lap the race didn’t have left. Hapless Aussie race director Michael Masi was faced with a dilemma – let the last race in the closest title fight for decades end as a damp, predictable squib, or do what he could to get them racing. A one lap shootout to the end. A concept Supercars fans, and Supercars-trained Masi, know and love.

To achieve the latter, Masi wouldn’t have to clear all the backmarkers, just the ones interrupting the top order. The order they would still have been in, you remember, if all the backmarkers had been cleared. He had just enough time to do that, and so the shootout was on.

Those that argue this was ‘not in the rules’ are Mercedes fans clutching at straws. Race rules can be interpreted numerous ways as the exact scenario demands. Happens all the time. Not clearing all the backmarkers is not the usual practice, given enough time, but doing everything possible to have proper racing where it can be achieved, is certainly in the normal spirit. Masi got the two leaders back together and he got them racing. He proved it was possible, so not to have done it would surely have been just as ferociously attacked.

Here’s the final fact of it. Max would never have been able to pass Lewis without a grip advantage. If Mercedes had matched Red Bull’s safety car pitstop, had been prepared to risk losing track position and come out second, Lewis would’ve smoked him on that shootout lap. Instead, even though they were getting tyred, they just kept on running. And they got caught.

The most prophetic comment I heard in the leadup to that crucial race was a commentator describing Masi as having the most unenviable job in the world. Nobody could’ve foreseen how true that would become. But he isn’t responsible for the result. That’s down to the racing engineers of the two top teams, and how they took their chances.

That, my dear livid husband, is racing.

If a smarter strategy and a bit of luck can never beat the fastest car or the best driver, you would have about three teams in that sport, and about as many fans.

So you can stop revving your engine. Plug in your cool suit and stand down from your podium. Because the tyres are gone, Bono, but the wheels haven’t fallen off. Everything’s right on track.

Shout out to Western Australia for hosting the match at the magnificent Optus Stadium in front of 55,000 fans, many of them ex-pat Kiwis and another reminder about the joys of afternoon test rugby. It just brings out the best in attacking flair and is so much more user friendly for the fans.

Mark my words, despite having been kicked out of Super rugby by their own incompetent National rugby union a couple of years back, Western Australia is becoming a stronghold of the game in Australia and in the not too distant future the Western Force will be the best Super rugby team in Aussie

Now for the rest of the Rugby Championship. Bring on Argentina and the World champion Springboks and how good is it to be living in Queensland right now.

Me and a couple of mates have secured tickets for the October 2 double header at Robina on the Gold Coast, the curtain-raiser Australia v Argentina and the main game All Blacks versus Springboks.

Total cost $80 and that includes free public transport too and from the stadium.

It does clash with my wedding anniversary but I’ve got the green light from Cheza so all good for another year of marital bliss.

Story by Jo Carson | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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