For anyone even remotely interested in motorsport the Festival of Speed is a MUST. Where else would you get to see F1 stars of past and present roaring round the Goodwood Hill Climb track in some of the sport’s most iconic cars? Throw in some jaw dropping supercars, superbikes, thought provoking concept cars, stunt bikes, the Moving Motorshow, a challenging rally stage, the Red Arrows display team and the Le Mans 24-hour winning Audi E-tron Quattro and it’s bound to be a weekend to remember.
The Valencia Street Circuit has bored virtually every Formula 1 fan in the world since the circuit’s debut in 2008, when Ferrari’s Felipe Massa took the victory. That year Valencia took over from the Nurburgring as the European Grand Prix, in the hopes of adding more grandeur to the event with a similar vibe to Monaco.
Monaco has pedigree and history topped off with a fat dollop of glamor, to be sure, but it’s also a unique and fantastic racetrack. The narrow streets twist, dive and ascend up and down a beautiful coast with a stunning view. A driver turns-in to many corners blind, shoots through tunnels, and brakes and turns over bumpy hills. It’s glorious chaos for a driver to overcome. That’s why nothing is more stunning than watching Senna qualify at Monaco on You Tube.
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Let’s start with the undeniable truth. Red Bull Racing offers Mark Webber the best chance at continued success in F1, by far. By really really far. Consider his options: Let’s say Ferrari calls (unlikely) and offers a ride. Will he have equal opportunities as Fernando Alonso? Sure, and Jim and I will likely get a call from the BBC to replace Brundle and Coulthard and oh, by the way Robin, Perez feels terrible about his early thievery and secedes his Sauber seat. Webber clearly laments number two status, and would no doubt suffer as full Ferrari support heads in Alonso’s direction. Not to mention that the Scuderia insists Massa will stay for 2012.
What about McLaren? Two English world champions that get along famously as teammates and deliver excellent results from two opposite ends of the driving style-o-sphere make up the line up now. Where does Webber fit there? Besides, Button isn’t going anywhere as long as he races in F1 and Hamilton will stay until at least 2013.
And just like that we ruled out the current race winning cars.
The next set of contenders, Mercedes and Renault, are possible but are equally a solid step down in performance, without much promise to rise to championship contender status in the next 12 months. Realistically, both teams require huge gains in performance to compete for race wins, let alone championships. Additionally, Renault places all its hopes on Bobby K (assuming he can return for 2012) and seems pleased with Vitaly’s improvements. As for Mercedes, Nico Rosberg continues to perform and continues to be German, both assets that the Factory Merc team appreciates. Moreover, regardless of anything else, Michael Schumacher remains an icon still in control of his own fate. So I truly doubt either team will look in Webber’s direction.
After that we’re looking at Sauber and STR.
Again, Red Bull Racing remains Mark Webber’s best option for F1 racing. So what can Mark Webber do? His situation would frustrate any driver. To sit in the fastest car on the grid, only to endure subtle yet persistent favoritism of your teammate, must suck! I feel for Mark, very much so. Furthermore, at 34, Mark knows his F1 career is finite. While he now still drives at his peak, that won’t last forever. So he cannot fuss about “maintaining the gap” with what time remains to chase the dream of being World Champion, right?
Mark Webber’s place at Red Bull is akin to Mother Nature, it’s not for him, it’s not against him, it just is. As painful as it is for Webber, he must appreciate the opportunity Red Bull provides: a race winning car and a team that will let him win a championship if he can beat his teammate on their terms. Admittedly that is a very tall order considering that Vettel is monstrously quick. But Webber, when he’s at his best, is capable. His best chance for success is to take a Zen approach when favoritism rears its ugly head; shrug it off and try again. His occasional anger at the team may be justified, but it doesn’t help him towards his goal of winning. It isn’t far. But it is Mark Webber’s best chance to win the Formula 1 World Championship and I, for one, think he can do it.
I know that right now seems a tad convenient to speak highly of Mr. Button and his accomplishments in a Formula One car, but coming off the drive he had in Canada is the perfect time to reflect on the benefits of Button fandom. In many ways, his Canadian GP victory represents 10-years worth of lessons learned and an evolution to a talent that McLaren couldn’t be happier to obtain. Similarly, my interest in Jenson as a driver evolved over the years as I learned and witnessed the different attributes that create successful and likeable drivers for the fans.
So let’s start with what I think is his best talent and most likeable feature. Jenson Button knows that Lewis Hamilton is a faster driver. He doesn’t deny it or take it personally. On the contrary he seems quite proud to share a garage with someone he regards as the fastest driver in the sport. Instead of self-pity and anger, he uses this fact as motivation to improve and searches for other ways to win races and championships, vehicle set-up, tire strategy, race strategy among them. And I think that’s freaking cool! Name one other driver in the paddock that knows he’s slower yet manages to avoid the dreaded “number-two driver” moniker? At a minimum, there certainly isn’t another driver out there that manages the situation with such class, composure and success.
Admirable talent number two: Jenson is quite fast in his own right, yet he drives so smoothly that you don’t notice. Very seldom does the car unexpectedly yaw, the in-car camera rarely shows any opposite lock dialed into the steering, and the trackside camera never zooms in on a car drifting an inch from the preferred racing line. This gentle touch, feed-it-in approach reminds me of Dario Franchitti. You wouldn’t know by looking, but the car is maxed out. Why add this to the Button fan tally? Because it results in fewer DNF’s, fewer accidents, cleaner passes (albeit less often) and more points. In other words the driver you root for on the track stays on the track more often. That’s value you can take home with you!
Terrific talent number three: Jenson Button is happy. Wait, wait don’t surf on to the next blog, hear me out. Happy drivers are more fun to cheer on, they require you defending their antics (both on and off track) less often and usually celebrate success with more vigor. The two best “Happy Jenson” moments that come to mind are his championship clinching race in Brazil 2009 and the Canadian GP this past week. In both occasions Jenson leaves no doubt that he is happy to the bone. I mean is it healthy for his eyes to nearly pop out of his helmet visor while screaming for joy? I didn’t think so either, but Happy Jenson can’t help it.
So there you have it, conclusive evidence that Jenson Fandom is both good and good for you. Now, before anyone cracks their knuckles in preparation to write some scathing rebuttal involving the words “crush”, “bro-mance”, or “restraining-order” bear in mind that I am well aware of Mr. Buttons faults, but now isn’t the time for that.
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