A Mirage of Madness
The penultimate race of the season proved to be the most fascinating- not because there was daredevil maneuvering and scintillating driving, but because of the final reading of podium positions.
Hear, it savour it, and rub your eyes- because this is as rare as a 100th international century: Sebastian Vettel failed to finish the race. In fact, he almost failed to start it- after a right rear puncture rendered him action-less at the second corner of the gorgeous Yas Marina circuit. In a bittersweet and ironical turn of events, Vettel finds himself finishing the season with dark memories of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix- a complete U-turn from the mood at the Yas Marina circuit just a year ago, where the German began his march to immortality, with an against-all-odds clinching of Championship victory.
This was Vettel’s first retirement of the season. This was his first point-less race after 19 starts, 5 short of the world record of 24 held by, who else but Michael Schumacher. He will also fail to match the older German’s record of 13 race wins in a single season, he is now on 11- with only Brazil to go in 2011. Heartbreaking, by Vettel’s high standards, for sure- but that did not stop him from putting himself in an unusual position: the pitwall. Instead of rushing off, like most disgruntled drivers do after an unfortunate mechanical mishap (ref: Hamilton, Alonso and the 18 others)- the pint-sized German boy decided to analyze the workings of the pitwall that has handed him some record-breaking stats this season. It is an understatement to say that his team members and engineers were happy to see him there, because they were absolutely chuffed to have to spend an entire two hours with the eager Champion.
One is not too sure that the pitwall profited from his vast knowledge of race-play, because this was probably the only race where the pit-crew messed up a Red Bull driver’s race. Of course, it had to be Webber.
This is not to say that Vettel missed out on another very rare record- equaling Nigel Mansell’s record 14 pole positions in one season- with a heart stopping final lap of qualifying that snatched away Lewis Hamilton’s very dominant air throughout the session. The sight of the Red Bull garage erupting in unison, as if another World Championship had made its way into their hands, was worth the trouble they have endured over the weekend.
For once, the podium belonged to mere mortals- Hamilton at One, Alonso at Two (again) and Button at Three. The last position was hungrily usurped by the lucky Button, after a Red Bull strategy (and execution) error that saw the evergreen Mark Webber resort to a 3-stop plan, after some nuts-and-bolts muckup on his first stop. It meant that the tragic Australian had to pit in the penultimate lap of the race, thereby handing over a hard-earned third position to a gleeful Button- which also made sure that Button lost only 10 points to his teammate, which in turn made sure that Jenson Button is the most successful British driver of 2011. Yes, you heard it right- it is the first time since the start of his career in 2001, that Lewis Hamilton has had to endure to ignominy of finishing second to his teammate. For some reason, the smile on Alonso’s face seemed to be a lot broader while he stood on the podium, sandwiched between the two McLaren drivers.
After all, he knows that tragic feeling all too well- thanks to a young upstart British driver 3 years ago. McLaren team principal Whitmarsh says that this is exactly what an ailing Lewis needs, in order to carry on the momentum to next season. Button agrees with him. What they fail to mention is, that in Brazil, the leap-yearesque phenomenon of a Vettel retirement may never occur- and in fair raceplay, we all know where that puts the other drivers.