Friday, 18 October 2013

Further thoughts on the Japanese Grand Prix

Webber's parting gift
Let's end this round of Further Thoughts... back where we started it, with Mark Webber.

The F1 community doesn't agree on many things, but one matter on which there is something close to consensus (or as close to consensus as you'll likely find herein) is that they'd like Webber to win a race before he bids F1 farewell at the year's end. It would be a fitting finish for the popular, hard-charging Australian, especially as he hasn't yet topped the podium this campaign. Even Christian Horner got in on the act after the Suzuka race: 'Mark got pretty close (to a win) today, it would be great to see Mark win a race before the end of the year as well.'

Many hope that Webber gets a win
before the end of the year
Photo: Octane Photography
Some have gone further to speculate that the Red Bull team might indeed engineer this outcome, given four races remain and the two championships effectively are bought and paid for. Perhaps even, a few say, it would be a form of pay back for Malaysia and all that. But whatever is the case, while I too hope sincerely that Webber can squeeze another win out of his F1 career, I hope just as sincerely that it is not one conspicuously handed to him. Webber is a proud man, and such a 'gesture' - however well-intended - would be the final insult.

I'm put in mind of a couple of instances of such from years past. In one, Ayrton Senna on the day that he clinched title number three in Suzuka in 1991 when leading comfortably on the last lap came almost to a stop on the run to the flag out of the final chicane, to allow his team mate Gerhard Berger to win. Seemingly it was a 'thank you' for Berger's support, and indeed the Austrian hadn't won a race for McLaren at that point. But however benignly it was meant, for Berger it wasn't a great deal like winning anything.

Then we had an even worse case, or worse cases, a year later. Nigel Mansell, absurdly dominant in the Williams FW14B that campaign ensured the drivers' title was his with several races to spare, while for various reasons his stable mate Riccardo Patrese floundered, usually still second such was the car's dominance, but far back. In the Monza race, Mansell disappeared into the distance in the lead as was his way that season, but then ground to a halt on the track (leading everyone to believe that he'd hit technical trouble). But then once Patrese had passed Mansell got up to speed again and circulated as if nailed to Patrese's gearbox. In other words, Mansell it seemed wanted to leave no one in any doubt that he was gifting the win to Patrese; that he could pass if he wanted to. As it was, late suspension problems meant Patrese didn't win that day, but two rounds later in Suzuka Mansell proceeded to do exactly the same again. Riccardo never forgot the humiliation.

And it was all in rather stark contrast with how Juan Manuel Fangio dealt with the same situation - possibly. In 1955 he and Stirling Moss dominated in their Mercedes W196s, but only in Moss's home round in Britain did Stirling finish ahead to triumph. Outwardly it looked a genuine race, but Moss has not and never has had any idea whether or not Fangio simply allowed him to win; whenever he asked Fangio if he had done so Fangio would invariably reply with something like 'it was your race, you were on form that day'. And if there was a secret Fangio took it to his grave with him. As Moss noted: 'if he did (let him win), it was with great subtlety - but then, of course, if would have been. That was him'. And it wasn't Senna or Mansell.

So, let's hope we don't see another a Senna/Mansell-type case with Webber. Or at least, if we do let's hope that it's subtle.

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