Bob McMurray: Two race tracks and one winner
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The Formula 1 season finished with the predicted whimper, closely followed by a long sigh of relief, at the Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi. (Incidentally, that is the only Formula 1 Grand Prix to be named after the host city and not the country which, as we all know, is the United Arab Emirates.)
Most things had been settled in championship terms before the race started but there was still some focus from a New Zealand point of view on the performance of Brendon Hartley, who was once again anchored, as a result of grid penalties, to the rear of the starting grid.
His Toro Rosso team dramatically underperformed and lost its position in the Constructors Championship to the Renault team, leaving the lingering thought, denied by Renault management, that the engines supplied to Toro Rosso were somewhat lacking in performance compared to those Renault power units supplied to the team earlier in the season.
The denials by the principals of Renault, among them four-times drivers’ World Champion Alain Prost, do not apparently reflect the thoughts of Toro Rosso, which sniffs the faint odour of venality about the situation.
However, next year Toro Rosso will have the Honda power units — and, for the sake of Toro Rosso but mainly for the sake of Hartley, I hope they work well.
The other championship finale was raced around the new street circuit of Newcastle for the “Newcastle 500”, the climax of the Supercars 2017 season.
The season, the event and weekend of racing did not, most definitely, go out with a whimper.
Kiwi Scott McLaughlin, below, in his Shell V-Power Racing Team Ford Falcon FGX, had the championship within his grasp. Photo /Getty Images
After the first day’s qualifying and the comments from the drivers, it seemed the event was in danger of being a difficult follow-the-leader type of race.
In fact, it looked that way before the start of each 95-lap dash.
On a track that threaded its way through city streets and provided spectacular views of long sandy beaches, surfers, crowds and bizarrely, the regular backdrop of huge bulk-carrier ships — entering the port empty and riding high, then departing low in the water, full of coal — we witnessed one of the most dramatic, emotional, epic and unexpected final battles to any championship I can remember.
Full of as many twists and turns as the track itself and ultimately determined by disputed penalties and errors of judgment, with the young hero, a “people’s favourite” star who had “one hand on the trophy”, ultimately defeated by the “old stager” who doggedly worked his way over the season, unspectacularly, to a history-making seventh title.
It was a script worthy of a Hollywood movie or a Shakespearean tragedy.
Formula 1 should perhaps buy that script and deliver its own remake and movie sequel.
Both the entire Yas Marina circuit and complex, and the Newcastle city beachside track — as poles apart and diverse as they were — had the same basic characteristic and were seemingly aiming by design at the same end result.
That was something with a glamour and appeal of that most famous of harbour side events, the Monaco Grand Prix.
Yas Marina was built with that aim much in mind and the Newcastle track almost achieved it by accident, but both managed, in different ways, to duplicate Monaco in that all three make it almost impossible for one car to overtake another.
Yas Marina accomplished that remarkable feat by having a design with wide open areas and a multi-lane track that ensured cars of similar performance levels, combined with the well publicised problems associated with the car’s aerodynamics, delivered a processional race.
A boring and tedious couple of hours of relative nothingness.
The Newcastle track, probably accidentally but certainly heavily due to the normal restrictions of having a racetrack on city streets, went in the opposite direction by being so tight and twisty as to prevent two cars from battling to overtake cleanly.
The results of this type of track were only too obvious as the weekend’s races progressed when the phrase “rubbing is racing” came to mind every few minutes.
Despite this, I know which track I prefer.
That’s one that ensures close combat and at least provides some entertainment as the battles go on all the way down the grid; one that rewards bravery and commitment; one that the viewer can feel a part of.
The Newcastle city circuit, despite its drawbacks, wins hands down over Yas Marina in all of those respects.
As a first event on the track, the weekend’s races must be classed as a success but the problem of overtaking must be addressed.
Putting the rights and wrongs of the various penalties, questionable as one or two were, the system of points that sees the fastest and “winningest” driver by far not becoming the championship winner, and all the other idiosyncrasies that come with any championship aside, the end result was gripping entertainment in the extreme.
That, after all, is what I want to see.
Any viewer, any fan of the sport will feel sympathy for Scott McLaughlin — perhaps the moral championship winner — who had a front row seat to watch his inaugural Supercars title gradually fall apart at the seams, much of that by his own hand.
He will not be the first to experience the fact that moral victories have no place in sport and that motorsport can be the cruellest of mistresses.
Winning is achieved by getting to the flag first, be that flag for just one race or the sum of all races.
The Newcastle event, not universally liked as the final race on the Supercars calendar I admit, is one I will look forward to in 2018.
The same cannot be said of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.
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