Bob McMurray: Last chance to see a real F1 race
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Game, set and match to the Petronas Mercedes Formula 1 team.
Not quite the doubles match win the team wanted, with Valtteri Bottas in fourth place in the drivers’ championship, but close enough.
The best driver and team won and that, in any world contest, must be the right result.
The team had one of the largest budgets, with an industrial organisation backing it, the like of which the sport has never seen. And until equally large organisations decide to pour great skiploads of millions of dollars into another team, we are unlikely to see any great change in the pecking order at the top of the sport.
Mercedes is not planning any great changes to the team structure under the “if it ain’t broke” theory, so it will only be outside forces that may influence the outcome of future seasons, as far as the 2019 season is concerned.
New regulations, budget caps, changes to the car aerodynamics, power units and a few other minor tweaks are some of the things we have to look forward to. But with those huge resources and the undoubted technical brilliance of the Mercedes F1 engineers, the almost robotic brilliance of Lewis Hamilton on track and the reliable wing-man Bottas riding shotgun, who could doubt that this Anglo-Teutonic machine will not go on to win more titles.
Meanwhile, in a cold, lonely place in a different postcode at the other end of pit lane avenue, almost in a different time zone, those at the back end of the grid are wondering where the next meal ticket is coming from.
It gives me no comfort that, some time before the 2018 F1 season began, my prognosis was that the Williams F1 team would be stone cold last in the championship, or that I similarly anticipated the McLaren team would struggle despite the skill of a double world champion driver and with an engine that, in other chassis, is capable of winning the occasional race.
So, will deals by Liberty Media embracing the likes of Hanoi in Vietnam, with the history and heritage of motorsport resembling a desert wasteland — while at the same time seemingly standing by and seeing tracks such as Monza, Spa and Silverstone go the way of Mont-Tremblant, Watkins Glen or Clermont-Ferrand — do the sport any good?
The more races there are in a season, with Liberty hoping for 25 in years to come, the more expense it is for the smaller teams to cope with the large extra budgets that will be required.
It seems counter-intuitive to see the huge gap of the “haves” and “have-nots” widen with each season with talk of F1 and F“1” now being the norm.
I appreciate the sport has always been about celebrating excellence and the competition off the track to obtain partners and sponsors has, rightly, been as intense as that on the track, but there must come a time when things have to be reined in and the playing field, if not levelled, be evened.
That time must be now or we will see a continued dominance of the dollar and a haemorrhaging of fans and followers until, one day, those industrialists holding the purse strings say “you know, we think we have done enough F1 so lets try air racing, or sailing, or something, anything, else”.
The Mercedes team and Lewis Hamilton have done a superb job and it is not up to them to do a bad job in order for others to catch up. But those others must have the opportunity to be competitive.
With the curtain coming down on the 2018 season in Abu Dhabi next weekend, it could be the last chance this season to see more Hamilton robotics, more Sebastian Vettel “red mist” tantrums, and maybe even another shoving match from a couple of the more petulant members of the grid.
Oh yes, and a real race.