November 19, 2017, 21:02

Martin Brundle: Strange battles on and off the track in Brazil

Martin Brundle: Strange battles on and off the track in Brazil

The Brazilian GP was a strange race, one of those where I left the commentary box thinking ‘that was nearly a great race but nonetheless interesting and enjoyable’, only to arrive back in the paddock to a chorus of ‘whatever did you find to say about that?’

There was many a race commentary in the past 20 years where I would have been very grateful for three consecutive races to have been won by three different drivers in three different cars. Along with the new world champion fighting his way from the pitlane to within a handful of seconds of victory.

Not to mention Daniel Ricciardo being one of those people you despise on the road where they constantly sneak up the inside of every junction and then grab your space. It was the second great comeback drive of the day after the Aussie started 14th due to highly-fashionable engine penalties, and was then fired off in turn two like a billiard ball after a spat between Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Ricciardo is forging a nice reputation in every driver’s psyche that he’ll launch from a long way back and still make the corner apex without locking his brakes. He makes overtakes out of nothing which will come in handy when he has a faster combo.

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Renault had turned the power down to preserve the turbos and MGU-H at this 800-metre high circuit after a series of recent failures across their six steeds, and so Max Verstappen only had a walk-on part in this particular production.

His moment of glory came after he’d cried long enough on the radio for the team to spoil him with a new set of tyres, especially as he was in no-man’s land in fifth. His cunning plan, of course, was to collect a fastest lap and a very worthwhile contractual bonus. It also happened to be a new outright lap record, usurping Juan Pablo Montoya from 2004. That’s progress for you, although still tempered in my mind given that the track is more like a motorway in quality now – and I mean a proper motorway, not the appalling surfaces we have in the UK.

Sky F1's Paul di Resta is at the Skypad to look at all the major talking points of the Brazilian GP

Valtteri Bottas did a great job in qualifying, now carrying all the hopes and expectations of the team after Hamilton had curiously binned his Silver Arrow on his first flying lap, to snatch pole when Seb Vettel left the door open for him.

Race day would be Bottas’s chance to establish himself as team number one material and move up to the next level. Sadly wheelspin in the second phase of the start, and not enough aggression away from the line and around the outside of the first corner, meant that, despite a fine and faultless drive, he would be the bridesmaid. Even a tactical undercut which left Ferrari exposed to losing the lead and track position didn’t quite pay off. It was that kind of day for Mercedes.

Meanwhile, Seb Vettel drove an Alain Prost-like race out front, doing the minimum necessary to win the race, while protecting the car, tyres, and fuel consumption. It was a well-judged victory, and despite the fireworks going on behind him, he was my driver of the day.

It was all curiously low key at Ferrari post-race despite it being his first victory since Hungary (when Kimi Raikkonen played a heavy rear gunner role protecting Vettel’s slow pace with steering issues) and Ferrari’s first victory in Brazil since the epic 2008 race. I guess this race victory was more of a reminder that they collectively let the championship slide away.

Lewis Hamilton’s new engine and maximum attack pace at least gave Ferrari, Renault and Honda a clue as to how much power and efficiency they need to find this winter. And I doubt the GPS and sound analysis will make for happy reading, unless you’re in Brixworth.

It was great to see Felipe Massa sign off in front of his home crowd with such a feisty drive to beat Alonso and Perez; just. No wonder he said it felt like a victory as best of the rest in seventh behind two each of Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. I will miss the little fella with the huge heart in the paddock, he’s been a credit to himself and our sport.

Retiring Williams driver Felipe Massa drove for the last time in front of his Brazilian home fans and was given a heartwarming message over team radio by his son.

There was a lot of tension and vitriol in the paddock between some of the teams and The Three Wise men at Liberty who took over from Bernie Ecclestone. The new template for the future of F1 cars and budgets is being laid out and the big teams don’t like it because they see their significant advantages being eroded.

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Blinkered team bosses annoy and impress me in equal measure. They are hard-wired to win for their team and they don’t much care about the bigger picture even if they pay lip service to it. The last team boss who tried to consider what might be best for the overall sport was Martin Whitmarsh at McLaren and look what happened to him.

Teams need protecting from themselves because they don’t seem to realise that a fragile grid of horrendously expensive cars in effectively three classes can only lead to extinction. There should be at least 24 reasonably matched cars from 12 teams on the grid who all make a sustainable profit and are building a valuable franchise. There’s already enough money in the system to do that.

Let me simplify that even more. Give us 24 well-matched, visually and aurally scary F1 cars with the fastest, bravest young drivers and we’ll give you copious trackside fans and an audience. All the tools are there, please deploy them.

I think once Bernie lost Max Mosley from his side, as much as I thoroughly disliked being around F1 politics at that time, the teams and especially the manufacturers became too strong thereafter, and we’ve ended up with an F1 today which is not as engaging as it needs to be in a fast-changing media, sporting and technical world, and is far from future-proof.

It’s time to make up the right rules for F1 with a more level playing field, the right finances so we ensure the fastest and not the richest kids are filling every seat, and a mix of iconic and historic venues along with accessible and dramatic new tracks. All at a price the fans can justify.

Spending billions on cars which become obsolete every few months, and parts and systems which even the drivers don’t understand let alone the media and fans, and which only serve to spread the cars out around the track and ensure they are unable to follow each other closely, doesn’t make sense to me.

But when I have these conversations in the paddock I realise I must be really stupid and have had too many hits on the head it seems.

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Once a common sense template is in place, simply open the entry process up for a couple of days and see who joins up. The teams know only too well how American single-seater racing permanently damaged itself with a split, and manufacturers make cars spectacularly well, but they are not race track promoters, global media specialists or sporting governing bodies able to compete with the 67-year global momentum of F1.

Who would want ‘I took Ferrari/Mercedes out of F1 because they wouldn’t let me dictate the rules to our clear advantage’ on his CV? Before going on to explain to the profit-hungry shareholders that they also refused new regulations which would turn F1 into a profit centre rather than a cost.

What frustrates me is that all the necessary ingredients are in place for a dramatic new F1 to emerge in the next three years, but egos and greed might well get in the way of that process. The process we now face could make Brexit look like a convivial meeting of like-minded people eager to agree.

One more race to go for the end of yet another season, but I stopped wishing them away some time ago as the seasons are passing rather too quickly now. Talk to you from Abu Dhabi in a few days.

MB

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Sourse: skysports.com

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