Why we can always expect the unexpected
Lewis Hamilton wasn’t too popular in the US during Fernando Alonso’s crack at the Indy 500 in May. Why? Something to do with his off-the-cuff, dismissive comments on a racing world of which he has zero experience – that’s why.
“I looked at the times and, frankly, for his first ever qualifying, for Fernando to be fifth – what does that say about Indy?” he sniffed to French newspaper L’Équipe. “A great driver, if he cannot win in Formula 1, will look for other races to win. But to see him fifth against drivers who are there all year is... interesting.”
That’s the thing about sport when it’s real and unscripted: it’s unpredictable.
Hamilton should know better than anyone that snap judgements based on headline facts without context can be misleading. Would he accept that his fourth place on the Melbourne grid at his grand prix debut in 2007 was an indictment of F1’s quality back then? Had he bothered to find out more, he’d have learned that Alonso’s performance on his oval debut was down to a studious approach to a breed of racing that has a bit more to it than simply turning left. Rather than reflecting badly on IndyCar’s regulars, Alonso’s ability to hit the Brickyard running at full pelt was further evidence to explain why McLaren rate him so highly. The 101st Indy 500 will be remembered for a long time thanks to Fernando – even though he didn’t win it.
On the same day in Monaco, a grand prix played out that will be a little easier to forget. Still, five out of six great races this year is a positive return for F1 and let’s never forget that the odd clanger is only natural. A couple of weeks earlier in Spain we witnessed a modern classic as Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel went toe to toe. The Barcelona circuit hasn’t always inspired great action, but on this day it sure did. That’s the thing about sport when it’s real and unscripted: it’s unpredictable. One day, thanks to a certain set of circumstances, it can be mundane, but on another the smallest variable can turn a race into an unmissable thriller.
Then again, even a quiet race such as Monaco has its nuances. Were Ferrari working team orders in favour of Vettel over Kimi Räikkönen or was it a quirk of the circuit on this given day that Seb’s used ultrasoft Pirellis were still what he needed to get the job done and pull off a rare strategic ‘overcut’? Hamilton had his view, but as his team boss Toto Wolff believes, the truth was probably not so clear cut. Things in motor racing rarely are.
Happily, what we do know for sure is that you, the fans, believe grand prix racing in general is in an improving state of health. That’s the key message from Motorsport Network’s 2017 Global F1 Fan Survey, which reports back this month after a great public response. There’s a real sense of optimism pervading F1 right now, as you’ll see from the results on page 34. How refreshing.