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Egmont’s Column: Who’s more equal?

2009-09-14 08:46

Egmont Sippel

Championship over – at least for Red Bull. And race on – between Button and Barrichello.

That much became clear during pit stops for the Brawn cars during the Italian GP at Monza.

For some laps prior, one wondered how the duel between Ross’s racers was going to pan out.

The last one to pit was headed for victory, that much was clear.

And the way Jenson was thrashing his car over the kerbs at the bottom end of the circuit, pushing vicious amounts of torque through his transmission, pointed to flat-out efforts to wipe his deficit, which in turn pointed to Button pitting first, followed by a Barrichello victory.

Yet, the doubts lingered. Wouldn’t Ross find a reason to call Rubens in first? After so many questions over the course of the season, especially after Barcelona and the Nurburgring, Monza shaped up to give us an answer, one way or the other.

In the end, every single racing fan in the world – apart from a few fanatical Buttonites, perhaps – sighed with relieve. Rubens got the extra lap plus a well-earned victory.

It was nothing less than sweet.

And not only because Barrichello managed his weekend so perfectly. Not only because he drove so beautifully. Not only because he closed the championship gap to Jenson. And not only because he kept the title race (just) alive.

No. It was sweet, as every Barrichello victory is sweet, because Rubens is so genuinely in love with F1. His has a pure and unblemished passion for the game. In this respect, Rubens is a throwback to the glory days of old, when the sport was untainted and unsullied by the depraved politics and dirty shenanigans that have threatened to tear F1 apart over the last three years.


Nor has the storm subsided. Crashgate is lurking. A number of pundits have put it on record that Nelsinho Piquet’s allegations about race fixing “simply can’t be true”. They’ve spotted “too many contradictions” in his sworn affidavit to the FIA. He’s up against “the might of Renault”. All that money will “squash him”.

Which, by inference, means that Nelsinho is lying, because the FIA won’t find in his favour?

What an argument! The FIA, as we all know, ain’t there to establish the truth. The FIA is there to find a fancy-dress fix that will promote the wishes of the FIA.

On the face of it, Piquet’s argument looks strong, in any case. He’d been on the radio in Singapore 2008 far more often than usual, he says, to enquire about the lap count. That’s checkable. So why would he lie about it?

Piquet’s actions in the car – his inputs on steering, brake and throttle – have also been recorded. That’s also checkable, not only against his own performance during quali and the race, but also against the telemetry of other similar crashes.

Piquet also alleges that Symonds told him where to crash, and why: there were no cranes on Corner 17, in Singapore. This sounds far more feasible than the other way round, where Piquet would have had to concoct an intricate story based on the fact that he – accidentally – crashed on a corner with no cranes.

Crime, in short, leads to clues; not the other way round – clues don’t often lead to crime.

A non-guilty verdict on 21 September would in any case just be seen as yet another case of sweeping F1’s gangrenous ills under the carpet.

Ghosn’s Axe?

A guilty verdict, on the other hand, would – hopefully – banish Briatore and Pat Symonds to the same retirement village as Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan. It will also give Carlos Ghosn the necessary ammo to pull the trigger on Renault F1.

Which will be sad. No other manufacturer is so involved on such a scale in so many different racing categories as Renault. And no other manufacturer has moved the technical game on as much as the Silver Diamond has, during La Regie’s forays into F1.

Viry-Châtillon, however, now finds it hard to compete with the might of Mercedes-Benz on the engine front. Vettel has lost a couple of V8s recently and neither the R29 or RB5 seems able to compete in terms of pure grunt.

Vettel, on top of that, has failed on three counts in 2009: (1) he’s not been able to get the better of Webber; (2) he’s not been able to capitalise in Button’s misfortunes, and (3) his driving, at times, has been unpolished – and we’re not talking about the super-robust moves he put on others, whilst defending at Monza.

Apart from great mid-season runs, especially at the Ring, Webber has also disappointed.

This is not to say that the Red Bulls won’t come back on the fast sweeps of Suzuka.

But barring a massive calamity for Brawn, that won’t be enough. Singapore is all about good low-down traction and nimble handling (Brawn), with more of the same to follow at Abu Dhabi (Brawn and Ferrari), whilst Brazil will be about riding the bumps plus that long uphill drag onto the main straight (Brawn, Ferrari and Force India).


Speaking of which: 2009 has been the year of surprises, none bigger or better than Force India coming to prominence at Spa and Monza. With its thin, high nose and driven by the all-conquering Benz V8, the car is obviously shaped for exceptional straight-line speed.

And hey, this car has not been such a slow coach on twistier tracks either. In Oz, both Force Indias were quicker on the fastest lap charts than Massa, Hamilton and Barrichello.

Let’s just hope that they find the magic bullet in terms of handling next year, which might – just might – see the re-emergence of Tony Liuzzi as a racing force (like he used to be in lesser formulae).

How well didn’t he perform at Monza, in any case, especially compared to Fisichella and obviously Badoer at Ferrari!

Okay, Fisi had to adapt to Maranello’s complex steering wheel with all its buttons. But after having raced non-stop in F1 for the last dozen years, he was nowhere as close to Raikkonen as Liuzzi was to Sutil.

The Kimster has also found a new plateau. Whether this is because his seat at Ferrari is under threat, or whether he enjoys the Scuderia’s extra attention, is hard to say.

But it remains fact that, on his day, the Little Red Raikkonhood is probably top of the pops if the mix requires speed coupled to mistake-free consistency of line and control.

Kimi back in a Macca?

If Alonso is switched to Ferrari for 2010, there would be no better seat for the Ice Man to usurp, than Kovalainen’s at McLaren.

At the beginning of his Ferrari tenure, Kimi made vague references to how welcome Maranello’s greater hand of freedom was. Over at McLaren, Ron Dennis certainly had expectations of how a driver in silver should behave, or not – especially after hours.

He drilled the Ice Man on this one.

But now Dennis is history and Martin Whitmarsh is a far more open and easy-going boss – which might just influence Kimi’s thinking about future times.

And Nico Rosberg, then?

If the Rai moves back to McLaren, the Ros can’t drive for Woking, that’s obvious.

And with their Benz connection, McLaren won’t be averse to a German driver.

Yet, Brawn is also powered by Benz – and Merc wants to buy into the Brackley outfit.

Barrichello out?

So, if the Ros signs with Brawn, Ross will have to choose between Barri and Butty. Being English, we know which way he’ll lean, not forgetting that Rubens is 37.

Which all made the decision to not detrimentally influence Barrichello’s race at Monza so refreshing.

Remember, also, that the silly season is being conducted on the assumption that Massa will be fit again to drive – competitively – next year.

What if he’s not? Surely Raikkonen, as an example, can’t hang around to find out if that would be the case or not. Surely he, or Ferrari, or both, would have to come to a decision about his future, quite soon.

Either way – staying with Maranello or going back to McLaren – would shape up to one of two mouth-watering prospects: Kimi vs Alonso, or Kimi vs Lewis.

Next year’s ban on refueling would obviously stretch the stints and place heavy full-tank demands on tyre performance, which will be a great test of Alonso but especially Hamilton’s natural instinct to use all of the rubber, all of the time – sometimes with disastrous results, as we so graphically saw with Lewis in Turkey and China in 2007, amongst others.

So, okay, he also lost the car completely at Monza.

But given his position in the championship it is far more important that Hamilton showed, for the umpteenth time, his unbounded and unfettered commitment to flat-out racing.

Who’s more equal?

To Lewis, the percentage game – like Nick Heidfeld’s – is anathema. In this regard the Hammer is the natural heir to the greatest wheel-to-wheel racers in the history of the game.

With 15 laps to go, for instance, we were all just waiting for him to catch Jense and button him into the first chicane, as he so memorably did to Raikkonen, in 2007, in one of the greatest outbraking maneouvres of all time.

Okay, Kimi had a very sore neck after his massive Ascari shunt on Saturday morning, back then. But still…

Which leaves us with a question: what has happened to the double diffuser debate? F1 swept it under the carpet and got on with the game. What’s happened to Max Mosley? Not yet swept under the carpet, and already forgotten. Ron Dennis? Long forgotten. Spygate? Almost forgotten. Lewisgate? Webber? Vettel?

History, all of it.

For it’s all about Button and Barrichello, from here on in, which is the way it should be.

Nobody has ever really thought of either of them as a world champion.

Yet, the way they raced at Monza, one of them deserves it.

“All animals are equal,” Napoleon the Pig wrote in Animal Farm, “but some are more equal.”

The odds are stacked in Button’s favour.

But might Barrichello just be a bit more equal?


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