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Egmont's F1 column: Big ugly bear

2009-03-31 07:13

Egmont Sippel

In 1964, a brash young fighter from Louisville, Kentucky, went a-hollerin’ around the USA: “He’s too ugly to be the world champion. The heavyweight champion of the world should be pretty like me!”

Welcome to the mad world of Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. Cassius Marcellus Clay. By the time he challenged for the title, Cassius had just turned 22. The “Big Ugly Bear” he targeted was no less a fighter than Sonny Liston, a menacing hulk of a man, if ever there was one.

Now, congratulations to Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello and Ross Brawn – or the “Big Bear”, as Jense calls his boss.

In fact, congratulations to the whole of Brawn GP, including Virgin’s Richard Branson.

Branson is a big fan of the planet’s other major virgin, Pamela Anderson.

But, until a month ago, he was not a noticeably big F1 fan. Preliminary talks with Honda and Ross went nowhere, which prompted Sir Richard to declare that F1 could be an attractive proposition (if not as attractive as Pammy), but that it was the wrong moment to invest in the sport.

F1 has to get its ducks in a row first, Branson said (even though Miss Anderson was not on the list – of ducks, I mean). 

Virgin Fuels

Branson’s comment also came before the BGP001 blitzed Barcelona and Melbourne.

Now, suddenly, all the ducks are lined up. And, hey presto, do they present Richie Rich with a golden opportunity to score more quid off somebody else’s back?

For that is Branson’s biggest strength: to find soldiers with which to build an empire.

His first big break came indeed from recording and issuing Mike Oldfield’s brilliant Tubular Bells, an instrumental soundtrack that nobody else wanted to touch.

Because it had no vocals, can you imagine!

Well, there ain’t no – or little – vocals in Beethoven and Mozart either, and Branson doesn’t carry himself as Mr. Big. He’s an entrepreneur of the highest order, and he’s using his name and fame to good effect, what with efforts to supply the world with cleaner fuel.

And what better platform than F1 to launch Virgin Fuels from?

Ugly Bear

Knowing Branson, he’ll make a great job of it, as well – as Brawn did over the weekend and in the months leading up to their momentous achievement, delivering a car so good that the team had no greater technical challenge, as one commentator quipped, than to fit the smile between Button and Barrichello’s ears.

But I have to throw a spanner in the works. The BGP001 should be banned from racing. It is just too damn ugly to be the world champion.

And if the low, bluff, droopy nose is not enough to launch a protest against the car and its magic diffuser, Button and Barrichello should be disqualified for the team’s colour scheme.

Whoo-ah! as Al Pacino’s blind character in Scent of a Woman used to exclaim. When last have you seen bright puky yellow with a touch of green, all in bright neon?

To say nothing of the fact that the whole ensemble mimics a Hollywood rendition of what the Yanks think a F1 car should look like – kind of a backyard dummy concoction for a Sylvester Stallone movie, with Sly himself inside that bright puky yellow neon helmet.


Bye-bye, Kimi?

Yet, Brawn made it – initially on a wing and a prayer to keep the team afloat, and now with thundering superiority on the track: front row, race dominance, podium kings.

With Barrichello throwing in the following for good measure: “If people think the Brawn is a good car just because of its diffuser...”

The latter was broken in a first corner fracas when Rubens got hit from behind by Kovaleinen’s McLaren, yet the car finished second, albeit with a slice of luck.

Kovi, on the other hand, had a golden opportunity to put one over his illustrious team mate, the world champion.

Yet, Finnish F1 skills seem to be fading fast, led by the seemingly unabated disintegration of Kimi Raikkonen’s career. Yes, okay, it could have been the diff playing up on him, pitching the F60 straight into a wall.

But in Singapore, not so long ago, Kimi hit the hard stuff as well – and we’re not talking vodka.

Rewind 12 months to Albert Park 2008, and the Iceman threw away another podium by going off twice. And in 2007, it was a wall at Monza, remember, when the car got away from him under braking.

Hey, Kimi, leave them walls alone (to paraphrase Pink Floyd)!

Where’s the Raikkonen, in any case, who had the kahunas to charge flat out into Eau Rouge, up the hill and pedal to the mettle through a column of smoke left by Panis in Raidillon? The Kimi who should have been world champion in 2003? The Kimi who thrashed Michael Schumacher at Spa in 2004?

The Kimi who should have been world champion in 2005? The Kimi who took Fisichella around the outside on the last lap in Japan, to win from 17th on the grid?

Where is that Kimi?

Ooh-ah. Eina. Weg. Gone.

Never to be resurrected again?

Fastest lap times

We shall see. In the mean time, it is the resurrection of a dead-and-buried Honda team that’s making headlines. After the Beatles’ split, John Lennon’s message to Paul McCartney came via a song on his Imagine LP: “How do you sleep?”

One would like to put that question to the Honda board, now.

Except that they might answer: Very well, thank you. Because the Brawn with a Honda mill wouldn’t have touched this Merc-powered missile.

For imagine this: Both Force India’s – with Benz brawn at the back – recorded a quicker lap time than Massa’s Ferrari! Both Force Indias beat Hamilton’s best lap time, too. And Barrichello’s!

When last did that happen? When last was the Red Bull Renault so much faster than the Renault (Vettel scoring a 4th quickest lap, versus Alonso’s 9th)? When last did the Williams-Toyota beat the Toyota so comprehensively (Rosberg with the fastest lap, Glock down in 6th)?

On the fastest lap charts, only Ferrari managed to put one over their customer engines. Which didn’t help much, as both Torro Rosso’s scored points, whereas the Scarlets just bled.


First in 55 years

There are reasons, of course. Oz is a strange track, and tyre compounds had a lot to do with Hamilton, Barrichello and Massa recording only the 13th, 14th and 15th fastest laps of the day.

Yet, it remains fact that a new team could – for only the first time in 55 years – score a 1-2 on debut. It’s also fact that both of those teams (or all four cars) were powered by Mercedes-Benz.

And it’s fact that F1 is governed by clueless officials.

That Charlie Whiting patiently waited for Button to complete his first pit stop before deploying the pace car certainly has something to do with Ross Brawn being a drinking buddy of Charlie’s.

But that Sebastian Vettel was punished with a 10-place grid penalty for clashing with Kubica is simply insane.

Tough Bob (again) drove a great, gritty race.

But the way he cut across the apex of Turn 3 as if Vettel had disappeared into thin air made the accident unavoidable.

No need for Seb to apologise, then. As a nearly 22 year old, he had more right to be vocal (are you listening, Mike Oldfield?) and go a-hollering, just like that other 22 year old, a long time ago.

Vettel did drive fantastically well. And he is driving the prettiest car out there – whilst the Big Bear’s Brawn is just too bloody ugly to be world champion.

So is half of the field, mind you, with top honours going to the whale-like Renault. Even Pamela Anderson couldn’t stuff enough silicone in her chest to make the R29 look nimble and agile.

And just in case you’re wondering: I’m serious. F1 regulations shouldn’t spit out cars looking like they’ve just seen Pammy in the shower, whether they like what they see or not.

She has, after all, turned into a caricature of herself. Just like F1 cars.

Egmont Sippel is the reigning SA Motoring Journalist of the Year.


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