Welcome to the Greatest (Longest) and most spectacular sports season on Earth: The barely-legal show where adrenalin junkies get their bi-monthly doses (read fix) of deathly speed and slick rides simply by a click of a button (no pun intended). Or two- depending on the make of your television system.

Contrary to various sacrilegious thoughts that come to mind on reading the above lines (and hence, popular belief)- we refer not to Saurav Ganguly’s training routine or Sania Mirza’s off-court ability but to the ultimate death-defying acts of human recklessness that take place upto 20 times a year. No, not the Pakistan cricket team either.

Welcome to the Formula One Season of 2011:

The ultimate display of speed, aerodynamics, mechanics, engineering, strategy, skill, fitness and pit-babes (or so they are called). Yes- there is interest even for an aspiring Indian doctor or engineer being gently prodded by his/her parents towards success and eventual depression. Kids, do not try this at home.

   Psst! Don’t you wish your teammate was hot like me?

We may already be 7 races into the season, but the bigger picture is truly starting to take form only now. Like every other sport, it takes a bit of time (read a couple of races- a few months) to decipher the form guide and blatant ability of most teams and drivers.

To begin with:

After a storming and unusual comeback that marked the beginning of a new era in F1 German domination, Sebastian Vettel (defending champion and future chamption) of the Red Bull Racing team looks to have cut out any sort of possibility of fate or even bad luck denying him any more glory (unlike the 2010 season- where he was clearly the strongest, but had reliability issues with himself)

As a result, he has acquired pole position in qualifying in 6 out of the 7 races so far- and of course, won five of them. Much like his idol- the face of Formula One and the most popular name after Sreesanth in India: Michael Schumacher.

   It’s NOI-DA. Yes, NOI. DA. Got it? Now, want a piece of me?

Oddly enough, Schumi (as he is loving called amongst wannabe F1 enthusiasts) is still racing. And not surprisingly, he is not enjoying a Sachin Tendulkar-style second or third wind. In fact, well into his second season after the most hyped comeback in sport after Saurav Ganguly’s fifth and final comeback, Schumi has had to endure the embarrassment of being firmly lodged mid-table for most races. Yes, he is now one of those drivers who are always there- just to make up the numbers. However much we would like to romanticize things and hope for atleast a podium position against the run of play, one does not see it happening anytime soon. Joining a World Champion Team like Mercedes immediately after their record breaking season (2009) may have seemed as sensible as supporting Roger Federer AFTER he wins his 16 titles. Sadly for Schumi, that is where Mercedes decided to play catch-up and stop defying conventional racing rules.

Moving onto Relevant news:

While Lewis Hamilton is busy contemplating his racing future after every second race- in between called for disciplinary hearings after rash desperate attempts and non-British behavior on the track- Jenson Button has pulled off the win of this decade already. The lucky folks of Montreal who decided to stay back after the two-hour rain delay during the ongoing race were treated to a spectacle not seen since the days of Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen. Overtaking on the last lap- seriously? We thought that happened only in competitive PS3 games- or MotoGP.

Not only has Button recovered some kind of respectability to the overhyped McLaren Mercedes setup, but he has also laid down the gauntlet for the remainder of this unpredictable and Global Warmed season. 

To suggest that 2011 is a two-horse race (or even a horse race, for that matter) will be a wildly diplomatic attempt at garnering more attention towards the competitiveness of this one-sided season. With 2010 easily being the closest racing season in the Post-Schumacher era (er, sorry), this year has still seen some of the most exciting races at the most unusual venues. First it was the Monaco Grand Prix, where excitement is normally restricted to the visual pleasure associated with the ridiculous slimness of the road-track (or the sunbathing ‘rich people’ on their yachts at the dock)- and then it was Montreal.

Even the weather Gods have decided to make things a little tougher for young Vettel, and they insist on taking things down right to the newly-positioned LAST race of the season:  (still tentative)

   Man Down  

The Inaugural Indian Grand Prix- also known as the Buddh International Circuit. (forget terms like Noida and Dilli for now). So it may have been pushed back from the fertile October to a cold December-and by law of averages, we cannot possibly have another heart-stopping close race to the finish, but a RACE is a RACE is a F1 Race. In India. Never thought we’d see the day. Even the errant cows have been flown to Mumbai- from the looks of it. Tickets? What? (hint: current website *wink*)

After all, a lot of deprived F1 fans in India wouldn’t want the race to be a *shudder* dead rubber where Vettel and Alonso decide to ‘rest’ in preparation for next season.

Sorry, that happens only in a predominantly Asian sport (smug expression) called Cricket. Every Formula One race is a logistics nightmare, and a miraculous combination of science and magic co-existing hand-in-hand to give rise to jet-propelled blurs that form the crux of most red-blooded fuel-induced wet dreams and West-inspired conversation starters like, ‘Which car, do you think, has the most effective KERS and Suspension this year, mate?’

And as much as the Americans would beg to differ- what with their Hollywood version of the precision-powered sport called Indy 500- Formula One takes world spectators and competitors alike to unchartered levels of insufferable highs and lows- previously associated with Astronouts and Space Shuttles. It is only a matter of time before the much-important tyres are pushed aside, and the mechanical masterpieces begin to resemble hovercrafts. The Sound Barrier might probably be used as a qualifying criterion then- and Vijay Mallya will be cheering for the newly-named Royal Challengers for the races, and the newly-named Force India team on the cricket field. There might be hope.

With 12 races to go, Bridgestone tyres a thing of the past (replaced by Pirelli), the controversial KERS units back in play and the Bahrain GP yet to be officially scrapped, it promises to be an action-packed season that might finally see the most-talked-about rivalry in recent times come to the fore:

Will Narain Karthikeyan manage to pip Michael Schumacher in the Drivers Standings with a late surge towards the end of the season? Only time will tell.

Will Ferrari ever return to their heydeys? Will Fernando Alonso ever display a smile (or anything but a frown)? Will Barrichello ever retire? Will Red Bull ever finish outside the top two? Will the real dates for the Indian GP ever be revealed? Will Bahrain stop playing spoilsport? Or will Force India EVER live upto the initial ‘promise’ and progress with a couple of unlikely strategic podium finishes?

Or finally, will Red Bull’s Mark Webber stop playing a loyal Barrichello to Vettel’s Schumi and resort to booby-trapping the German’s dressing room with the help of some errant and dodgy soap bars?

Stay tuned.
Next up: The European Grand Prix (Valencia). A subtle message there- that Spain now stands for Europe sportswise. And rightfully so.

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