Thursday 27 August 2015


Image Source: The Guardian 
Sebastian Vettel had to bow out of the Belgian Grand Prix while he was fighting for the third place. Behind him was Romain Grosjean and he looked good to overtake the Ferrari and steal the last place on the podium from Vettel. With Mercedes not losing its might in the championships, one can assume, a third place finish to be a winner. And Vettel was within this reach and they were on a one-stop strategy with the hard tyres 27 laps old. And then, the Ferrari fending off Grosjean's Lotus had to take some defensive lines and this went on for about five laps and boom! - off it went Vettel's rear right tyre and there was no option but to retire as he had a good 5 km or so to cover to reach the pits. Whose fault was it?

It was not the first time a driver had to retire in Formula One - there have been many occasions when F1 cars have retired when the car was within kilometres from winning before hell broke loose. In the recent past, it has happened to Mika Hakkinen at the Spanish Grand Prix 2001, the car ceased to move because of engine related problems and he retired on the last lap, while leading the race. Kimi Raikkonen was leading the 2005 European Grand Prix and for the last twenty laps he went on with a flat spot on his front right tyre. He raced on over the course of twenty laps (rules stated no tyre change unless punctured) and this affected the suspension and the tyre came off on the last lap. Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren took a gamble. The team and the driver collectively took a decision to ride on their luck hoping it would pay off. Fernando Alonso would have won the race as he had a better car behind Kimi or if Kimi could have held him off,  McLaren would have celebrated the victory. You play the sport with high stakes at times!

When it comes down to going for glory or nothing, you gotta be prepared that - the other side of victory is defeat. To give one more instance of riding on one's luck - Ferrari and Michael Schumacher at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix decided not to pit for new tyres when it was clearly visible the car lacked grip and losing time. Ferrari wanted to gain more points as Schumacher's rival Fernando Alonso (yeah, again) had retired from the race. Ferrari relented and ended up losing Michael Schumacher as he damaged his suspension trying to defend from cars overtaking him.

For Ferrari and Vettel, yes it was unfortunate that tyre gave up the way it did. Twenty seven laps on a single set of hard tyres was not the way other drivers chose. The car was handling fine and I was confident he could have made it but for the pressure exerted by Romain Grosjean in the dying stages of the race. Vettel up until then was happy to be placed third and chose not to pit for new tyres - the script was perfect, just that the Grosjean factor was not considered. The four-time champion could have let the faster car go instead of defending  - but a racer that he is, it is not easy to let go someone without fight in that heat of racing. Vettel pushed his luck, while Ferrari crew could only watch and hope the result to be in their side and in the end it didn't pay off. Tough luck!

Post race, Vettel went aggressive on Pirelli and suggested the tyres must never come off as long as drivers raced within the track limits. However, this isn't an ideal world where things happen as we wish it has to, there will be anomalies and Vettel's tyre burst was one such case. He was fighting for the third place in a race where Ferrari looked out of sorts - Vettel took the gamble and in the end it didn't go his way.

When reporters asked Pirelli head Paul Hembery about Vettel's reaction - he brushed away and told drivers undergo a lot of things after such intense battle before showing surprise about being unaware of Ferrari's single stop strategy compared to rest of the drivers. 

While Vettel has come to terms with the issue of tyres, the world of motorsport mourned at the loss of a former F1 driver Justin Wilson. He drove in the 2003 season in a specially customised cars designed by Minardi and Jaguar as he was very tall for the normal design. He passed away after sustaining head injuries in a IndyCar race.

Graham Nash once quoted - “Life is not perfect. It never will be. You just have to make the very best of it, and you have to open your heart to what the world can show you; and sometimes it's terrifying, and sometimes it's incredibly beautiful, and I'll take both.”

Formula One and motor racing is dangerous and yet people have great ambitions to be part of it, safety marshals risk their lives in doing their job by the track side and many others including fans who are in the circuit - why?

Hindsight is vision 20:20 and decisions are not made all the time looking backwards, some decisions are made on the go looking at the present - it works at times, and in other times it doesn't. If it pays off - life is beautiful; when it doesn't - life can be cruel. C'est la vie, Voilà Formule Un! 

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