As a fan of formula one, your years in Russia were a bit frustrating.
It’s true that the races were generally available on one of the terrestrial channels, although it always seemed to take a few races for a deal for the TV rights to be struck. Missing the opening of the season every year and having to keep an eagle eye on the upcoming schedules to see who had been the lucky bidder this year did tend to leave you a bit irritated.
Of course, there was also the problem that any kind of delay on the day would not result in extra time being granted by the channel bosses, meaning that, given that this was the era of Schumacher domination, the one genuinely exciting race of the year would invariably be cut unceremoniously short.
And of course, the idea of showing the qualifying sessions, or having a pre race show to discuss the ins and outs of the championship so far were not even to be thought of. Even the commentator was phoning his performance in, complete with occasional black outs when he got cut off.
Not that this was much of a problem for you – you didn’t understand a word of what he was saying anyway. Sport has a whole vocabulary of its own and while you’d think that you’d have been able to pick a few of those words up over the years, just as you tended to follow the weather by looking at the pretty pictures rather than paying attention to what the weather girl said, you managed to watch season after season of racing and only ever learnt the Russian for ‘overtake’.
Probably as this happened so rarely it stuck in your mind.
So coming back to the home of motor sport should have been a delight. Hours of coverage on both days of the race, actual contact with most of the main names on a regular basis and former drivers in the commentary box.
Of course, the British think the UK is the home of every sport, or at least every sport worth playing. And yet to be honest you’ve never really thought of formula one as actually having much to do with a passion for patriotism.
Do you support the team whose engine manufacturer is located in your country? Whose technical director was born in your village? Whose second driver speaks the same language as you? Whose first driver used to share your nationality but now is a subject of King Albert? Or whose tyre manufacturer has done a lot to put jobs your compatriots’ way?
You can’t say you’ve ever given the subject much thought, and it certainly doesn’t dictate who gets your support.
The first two years, the obesession with Jenson Button not winning his first Grand Prix should have alerted you perhaps, but since he generally just continued chuntering around in forth or fifth place at best, not even the Brits could justify their comentators spending the whole race talking about him, and you remained blissfully unaware of what would happen if a British racer ever got a sniff of the title.
So you find yourself spectacularly taken aback that the new British hope Lewis Hamilton’s success seems to be some kind of national pride issue. Perhaps this was to be expected given that the British have so little other (sporting) success to make an issue of. But you do wish that a bit of perspective could be used, particularly in the ITV F1 coverage.
He’s great, of course, is Hamilton. He’s quick. He’s consistent. He’s extremely tough minded. He’s got good judgment. He’s not afraid to have a go. He’s very skilled. He’s extremely commited. It’s his first year and he’s been off the podium once. Because of circumstances largely beyond his control.
Why it doesn’t seem to occur to people that he’s just as ready to play head games and put one over on his teammate as the next ruthless competitor you don’t know. Especially as he’s very good at it.
Take this weekend’s debacle.
For those readers not as into formula one as you are, Fernando Alonso – Hamilton’s teammate – screwed up Hamilton’s qualifying session so successfully that Alonso finished on pole position (or ‘in first position’) for the start of the race with Hamilton one place behind him.
Unfortunately, he did it rather obviously, by sitting in front of Hamilton after having been given a public signal to move off while they were both waiting to get their tyres changed for just long enough so that Alonso was able to go out before the session ended but Hamilton wasn’t.
Now the race officials, presumably feeling that blatantly blocking another driver, even if he is your teammate, is a precedent they cannot allow to go unpunished, then dropped Alonso five places on the start grid on a circuit where it is notoriously difficult to pass. Just for good measure, they also decided to punish the team too, who had tried to limit the damage to Alonso’s position by claiming that it had been an argument about tyres that had held Alonso stationary rather than a willful desire to spoil Hamilton’s race. The team will not score any points for the constructors’ championship this race.
Now, fair enough. It amused you and made for a lively programme today, but it was, perhaps, a bit much as a move, even for the cut throat world of formula one.
But after the initial outburst of indignation, everyone seems agreed that this wasn’t just Alonso being particularly spiteful.
It seems to have been a retaliation against Hamilton for disobeying instructions from the team to let Alonso past earlier as, for various technical reasons which it has occurred to you that explaining would have everyone here well past bedtime and has just impressed upon you how much time you have wasted keeping up with the sport because you actually understand them, in order for both drivers to have an equal shot at top spot when it came to putting in a fast lap, Alonso needed to be ahead of Hamilton on the track at that point.
Which just goes to show, you think, that Hamilton, as well as probably being the best all round driver on the track, is also the best all round manipulator. Had Alonso not lost his rag, the most the rest of the world would have heard would have been James Allen exclaiming again at how sick as a parrot Alonso must be at being beaten to the pole by a rookie. Even as it was, the best response Alonso could manage was so lacking in the finesse of Hamilton’s move as to be seriously compromising for him in all sorts of ways.
Yet the whole thrust of the commentary today was of Lewis, the determined driver who is confident in his ability, knows how to look after himself and is not to be pushed around by anyone, even his own team versus Alonso, the verging on a cheat for having the temerity to object publicly to Hamilton shafting him.
You thought it was a particularly nice touch that an in depth interview with the man himself had Hamilton saying sadly, and with just the right amount of disappointed regret, that at least today had taught him who he could trust in this sport… and who he couldn’t. You were hard put to stop yourself falling off the sofa and rolling around in delighted gales of laughter.
The race has just finished, and sure enough Hamilton won, with Alonso fourth.
Hamilton has now extended his lead in the championship over his nearest rival who is, now let me see, I wonder if this is significant, Alonso, to seven points…
Mind you, did I mention he’s from S______? Yes? Ah.