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The Emotional Equaliser

Motorsport is not just about timing sheets, speed and skill. Nor is it limited to super-human abilities to control a car at the limits of adhesion. In fact, it is my opinion that motorsport is ruled by emotion. 

During a Grand Prix broadcast, though, we hardly even get a glimpse of what goes on behind the helmets we see peeking over the cockpits of what are arguably the fastest racers in the world. We often forget about the deep-seated competitiveness that drives these racers to be the best in the world. And with that, comes emotion.

Towards the closing stages of the 2020 season, we saw a lot of it boiling over – especially at the Bahrain Grand Prix, where onlookers, myself included, had an emotional range extending from absolute dread to elation. The moment that exploded the Twittersphere was when Romain Grosjean propelled into the barriers and, eventually, following a minute or so of hand-clasping, emerged from a flaming wreck. 

When it seemed like the drama was done, Sergio Perez, out of nowhere, managed to secure P1 after starting the race from the pit lane. This is also a man whose future in the sport looked uncertain at best after losing his seat to Sebastian Vettel and who would become the newest driver to join the Aston Martin F1 team, formerly the Racing Point team. 

THE YEAR SO FAR

The 2021 F1 season is booked to be one of the busiest to date following a Covid-riddled series of cancellations during 2020. Some familiar fixtures are making a return as well as some exciting new additions, like Zandvoort and the Saudi Arabian GP that will, hopefully, not be cancelled due to health-related restrictions. 

But what about the first two rounds of the 2021 season? Well, the Bahrain season starter did somewhat deliver on the edge-of-your-seat stuff, initially, with a Verstappen pole position. Still, it seemed to quickly return to usual form when the Mercedes of Hamilton showed renewed pace following pre-season tests that didn’t look all that promising. At least it was a battle, albeit conservative, between the young Dutchman and the seven-time World Champion. 

Then came Imola – a storied circuit that delivered on all fronts. Add to that intermittent rain showers, and the result was a suspense-driven Grand Prix, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while. The grid comprised of Hamilton at the front, Perez slotting in next to him in his best-ever qualifying position in his new Red Bull, and Max Verstappen – it did initially look quite predictable, if I’m honest. 

Max, however, had the best start when the lights went out thanks to a second gear pull-away and immediately set his sights on Hamilton’s rear diffuser. Going into the turns, though, the Dutchman gave Hamilton no quarter launching the Merc into a kerb-jump that would later cost the Britton in the downforce department. In a rare occurrence, Hamilton would eventually make a mistake that put him and his overall dominance on the back foot as he spun into the gravel trap, the seconds ticking by as he looked for a way out. 

The real drama took place further afield as Mercedes-AMG junior driver, and hopeful George Russel opened the rear wing of his Williams in a DRS zone in an attempt to overtake Valtteri Bottas – also the man standing in the way of Russel and the coveted Merc seat. On-board cameras and replays weren’t too reliable in capturing what exactly happened, but by the looks of it, Bottas veered to the right as Russel, who had a significant speed advantage, came closing in, forcing the Williams driver to evade the countermove by steering right and putting a wheel on the slippery grass. The result was an expensive accident that saw both Merc-powered cars careening off the track at around 300 km/h. 

That’s F1, though; accidents do happen. What we don’t see often is the resulting emotion as Russel managed to hurriedly escape his wreck, making his way over to Bottas, who, while winded following the impact, tried to get out of the cockpit. At first, it looked like the junior driver was checking to see if the Fin was okay, but upon closer inspection and a slow-mo replay, he was clearly overcome by anger that erred on the side of unprofessional, as he slapped the helmet of Bottas with his gear, which was followed by a bird-flip from the still-seated driver. 

LAST WORD

Many theories are circulating on the interwebs as to what really happened. Some argue Bottas knowingly veered into Russel’s way as he recognised him as a challenger for his seat. Others say that Geroge had to better calculate his overtake, especially on such a narrow and fast stretch, especially considering that the defending driver is allowed one defensive move. 

My opinion? The sport is ruled by emotion. Yes, budgets also play a significant part, but when you put 20 of the world’s most competitive drivers on the same piece of bitumen and tell them to get to the end first, passion is largely going to dictate the outcome. We just don’t always get to see it. 

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