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Your views: The F1 circus becomes a lions den

27 March 2013

The typical stereotype of a German sportsperson has always been that of a ruthless, efficient, uncompromising winner.

From the remarkable ability of their football team to sail through penalty shoot-outs with ease, to Michael Schumacher's controversial move on Damon Hill to win the 1994 World Championship, in times of pressure, the need to win at all costs; deeply ingrained in the psyche, takes precedence above all else.

Although Sebastian Vettel may be loathe to admit it, in Sepang he added further fuel to an already roaring fire.

The race itself, much like the weather, was a Jekyll-and-Hyde affair, moving from the dark and damp to the blistering heat. Until the final few laps it resembled something close to a high-speed game of poker, with Mercedes hunting down the rampant Red Bulls: fans, team-members and pundits alike unsure as to whether their apparent pace was genuine, or a calculated bluff.

Until Vettel took matters into his own hands, the goings-on in the pit-lane were more exciting than the action on the track. Pirelli designed their 2013 tyres with the mindset that they would help to promote more passing in the race rather than in the pits, but the Malaysian Grand Prix was indeed becoming a bit of malaise for the beleaguered tyre manufacturer.

With Jean Eric Vergne losing his wing against Charles Pic's Caterham (having been released into the path of his compatriot), the McLaren team forgetting to attach Jenson Button's wheel, Force India forgetting how to attach a wheel, and Lewis Hamilton forgetting that he now drives for Mercedes, the spectators on the main straight were treated to a far better show than anything happening elsewhere.

A slow burner then, but when the fuse was finally lit, the Grand Prix quickly exploded into a life.

Having given the world a glimpse of his frustration through an early radio message complaining about being held up behind Webber, Vettel unbolted his bull with fifteen laps to go, and after a fierce battle, finally scythed past his team-mate on lap 45. The Aussie gave him a one-finger salute on his way by, but it was an empty gesture; the damage had been done.

The German had laid down the law. Determined to capitalise on a weekend that was going to see his major championship rival Fernando Alonso score no points, the reigning World Champion was not about to gift a win to a team-mate that he has roundly beaten in the last three seasons, and in his mind, who has no chance of the title.

Unbelievably, a few metres back down the road Mercedes were also grappling with a team-mate battle all of their own. The contrast between the outcomes of each fight however could not have been starker.

Christian Horner chose to reprimand Vettel for being 'silly', in the process giving himself the all the authority of a dinner lady during a disorderly Primary School lunch break, while Ross Brawn took on the mantle of the stern head-teacher and replied to Rosberg's repeated appeals to be allowed past Hamilton with an emphatic 'No'.

The resultant podium ceremony was more reminiscent of three suspected criminals being hauled up in the docks at court, before a watching jury of millions. The top step was certainly the naughty step, with the bitter Webber a wronged innocent just below. Despite this, the fans were happy even if the drivers weren't. Or at least, they should have been.

The Malaysian Grand Prix has got even the most casual observers talking about the sport at a level not seen for some time. With Premier League football taking a week off, debates about penalty calls have been replaced by debates about Sebastian Vettel. It wasn't scandal, it wasn't disgrace; for once it was pure racing drama, not seen since the 1980's and Ayrton Senna.

All pure racers have the devious gene, and Senna had it in abundance. All too often we hear of drivers in the modern era being PR robots, without a personality of their own. Save for perhaps Kimi Raikkonen, most say and do what they are told and when without fail. It has been said that Senna would not be half as popular and half as revered if he were around nowadays, but that's simply not the case. The reason why fans love the Sennas and Raikkonens of the world is that they are unashamedly themselves, and make no apologies for being who they are.

Vettel on the other hand tried to backtrack after the event by issuing an apology to his team, grovelling to the cameras, and by looking seemingly appalled that he had been capable of such malice. But he had already shown his cards and placed them face-up on the table to all those watching. Not even the greatest of poker players can recover from that.

Vettel has revealed himself to be the brilliant, brutal beast that he is. Indeed it perhaps should have been obvious to experienced observers; you don't become a three-time world champion by being nice.

But Vettel is desperate to be the nice guy. The picture of perfect. Unfortunately for him, trying to be one person in the car and a completely different one out of it doesn't sit well with the fans, and it is one reason why there has been so much vitriol spouted in his direction.

The greatest heroes are always flawed. In films and comic books they can only succeed once they embrace those flaws and harness them to their advantage, rather than by running from them. Sebastian Vettel will gain many more admirers by throwing off the shackles of his cultivated boyish image, and by accepting himself for what he really is: a ruthless winner.

In the meantime, the Formula One circus has become a lion's den, and the three week break until the next race in China will only serve to increase the hunger for revenge for Webber and Rosberg. By the time the lights go out in Shanghai, the tension will have reached fever pitch.

You'd be a fool to miss it.

by Joshua Bonser


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