Comment: As Sebastien Vettel cruises to a fourth World Championship, the lack of a contest spells the death of Formula One
It is not sport. It is time-trialling and it won't do
This quote from Lewis Hamilton should make Formula One scream. "I was really, really happy that at the end, I could see Fernando [Alonso] was catching, so I was just looking after the tyres to wait until he started to push. When he did, I just reacted a bit and when he was going to try and bring out an extra 10th [of a second] I was going to bring out two 10ths."
Hamilton was speaking after the US Grand Prix in Texas last week and might have been inadvertently articulating the death of Formula One. In the United States, sport is predicated on entertainment. There was precious little of that watching Sebastian Vettel take an uncontested eighth successive victory.
F1 is selling the idea of high-octane drama, wheel-to-wheel derring-do, death-defying skill, not an unaccompanied toodle along empty roads on a Sunday afternoon, which was essentially the lot of Vettel in Austin. In the search for anything remotely interesting, the cameras were compelled to focus on meaningless midfield arm wrestling.
Hamilton's reflections concerned the fight for fourth place, for goodness sake. What on earth is happening when two former world champions, two of the sport's genuine ticket sellers in marques you might have heard of called Mercedes and Ferrari, are involved in some kind of tyre-protection strategy on race day? Ok, there is some skill in the husbandry of rubber, but that does not translate to good TV nor put bums on seats in the numbers required to keep this show on the road.
I'm a fan. I spent a good chunk of my professional life in the Formula One paddock. I acknowledge the brilliance of the brains that bring these magnificent prototypes to the track. The skill and courage of the drivers is beyond question. You try covering 3.5 miles, lap after lap, posting times within a 10th of a second. But none of this skill is conveyed to the viewer. There is no sense beyond the first corner that anything is being contested.
Hamilton has a chance of securing third place in the drivers' championship on Sunday. He's not interested in that. His season ended with blown tyres at Silverstone that took him out of a race he was leading and ultimately out of title contention. For the latter half of the season there has been only one man shooting for victory. That, ladies and gentleman, is not sport. It is time-trialling and it won't do.
Five years ago Hamilton gave us one of the most riveting finales in recent memory. Needing to finish fifth to take the title, his hopes were seemingly knocked sideways by rain at the final race in Brazil.
Championship rival Felipe Massa was three corners into a lap of honour believing the title was his after taking the chequered flag. Hamilton killed that dream and fulfilled his own by sweeping past the fading Toyota of Timo Glock almost within sight of the line. The season went down not only to the last lap but the penultimate corner.
In that mad climax F1 showed why, when it gets it right, there is little to beat it for raising the pulse rate. When it gets it wrong, is there anything more soporific? There is nothing glamorous about falling asleep in front of the telly.
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