F1 2005: the old and the new Champions
While hailing F1's new Champion, and seeing off the F1 Champion whose five-year reign comes at last to a close, I realize there is more than meets the eye, as the Old and the New Champions emerge side by side.
Let us get started with the Old Champion, then briefly shine the spot onto the New Champion, finally to observe a surprisingly coincidental stance and situation relating the two, which may have gone unoticed to many, a priori. (Possibly as a result of the novelty and celebration of a new F1 Champion, at last, it took me a few days, before the ideas and words clicked together, revealing a unique pattern.) First of all, what can be said, in general, about the driver who has just passed his Crown on to Alonso, which has not yet been said?... Michael Schumacher unarguably ranks among the finest drivers who ever lived.
In addition to admiring M.Schumacher's driving skills, I admire the inner flame that has enabled him successfully to meet whatever challenge coming up. This flame characterizes the most outstanding sportspersons—a blend of self-trust and lack of relationship with the notion of ‘impossible.’ I have also appreciated M.Schumacher's committed and persistent struggle, as he contributed toward raising Ferrari's game, so that the Scuderia would again be in a position to fight for both Championships.
At the same time, the excessive attention M.Schumacher has dedicated to most details that can ensure he remains in his own league, above the rest, does not allow one to figure out fairly, whether or not M.Schumacher would measure up to Ayrton Senna—or even surpass Senna, as some claim. Regrettably, to a driver of M.Schumacher's caret, a stance generally peculiar to those who find themselves in positions they are not qualified for is unnecessarily belittling, in addition to obscuring the possibility of a fair image of the sportsperson, under the light of those before and after him and his contemporaries.
So I can merely restate that I admire M.Schumacher's driving skills, greatly enjoy the flares of geniality that can thrill us when he is truly competing, value a great deal the role he has had in Ferrari's success, but lack sufficient data for a fair comparison, despite the records that M.Schumacher has amassed to his name (numbers which he claims he does not care for, in contrast with the voracity with which they seem to be sought after).
I'm not alone in feeling at a loss for real data, regarding M.Schumacher's career: "we'll never know the real truth about how good Schumi is when put in an equal car, against a driver of equal talent, because he's never allowed it to happen. Unlike Senna or Prost." is one among so many analogous comments posted in F1 forums along the years (on-line source).
Our new Champion, in turn, has taken the Crown with a record that M.Schumacher did not managed to conquer: Emerson Fittipaldi's record as the youngest F1 Champion, a record that had remained unbeaten for 33 years, and which the Brazilian Champion had conquered from Great Britain's Jim Clark (whose record, in turn, had remained unbeaten for 9 years). And like E.Fittipaldi, Fernando Alonso's on-track serenity evokes a racing maturity well beyond his age.
Regardless of Alonso's incontestable merits, however, his warning Kimi Räikkönen now to expect a more incisive battle for the Constructors' Title, this message worryingly evokes the former Champion's words following that now notorious Austrian GP, in 2002: according to the Ferrari Champion, it was important first to guarantee the Championship; then, once the numbers he had accumulated could no longer be threatened, he'd start racing, M.Schumacher then declared.
Analogously, Alonso's message signals that, the Drivers' Crown having now been conquered, we can then expect the Renault Champion to give it his all, and race all that he's truly capable of. Given the similarity of reasoning underlying both Champions' comments, and given the further coincidence that both drivers have first conquered the highest F1 honors under the wing of the same team management, let us hope that Alonso will at least differ from the Ferrari Champion in the way that the Spaniard will be steering his F1 career and natural ambitions, from now on.
For although, in the Renault Team manager's words, it is the ‘story’ that the points tell, the only ‘story’ that matters, the story that remains in the motor racing fan's memory is not quite that: it is rather the ‘story’ told by the sequence of Grand Prix, each with its battles and overtaking maneuvers, or lack of, with its fights for every inch of asphalt, or its lack of excitement, and so forth. These are the memorable tales that the motor racing fan retains, vivid, as he recalls a Championship and its Champion—the numbers residing rather in the books and the databases where they have once been entered.
As a token of illustration, both Gilles Villeneuve (see the Villeneuve Museum, too) and Stirling Moss are unanimously placed among the very best ever F1 racing drivers, both are true legends. However, neither name has been entered in statistics listings of F1 Champions. What, then, makes them be obligatorily cited among the ever best F1 racers, if not precisely the story that really matters–that which lives in the memories and hearts of the motor racing fans, that which is made of what they have done on the track?
In this connection, here is a remarkable excerpt from Gilles Villeneuve's obituary (by Nigel Roebuck–emphasis added, below): “History will relate only that he drove in 67 Grands Prix, and won six. It will not remember him as a World Champion, but that is of no consequence. Any such list which omits a Moss is already an absurdity, and Gilles himself often said that the World Championship was a secondary consideration, a bonus. Driving ‘for points’ was complete anathema to him, a concept he found impossible to comprehend. What mattered was winning races, an instant, intuitive thing, a passion to beat everyone now, today. Planning a Grand Prix season like a military campaign, calculating gains here, losses there, was not Villeneuve's style.”.
Curiously, at the start of the Season, Alonso had commented that the worth of a World Championship conquered against M.Schumacher would be much higher than that of a World Championship earned after M.Schumacher had hung his helmet. Lucid words these were. But between words and deeds there may be a distance greater than that covered in a Grand Prix. And the history of the current Season–or the ‘story’ of this Season which will be remembered–will tell that the youngest F1 Champion had a single mano-a-mano dispute with the German Champion, when the young Spaniard masterfully kept the experienced M.Schumacher in his slipstream, in the final laps of the San Marino Grand Prix. Other than this memorable instance, however, this year's Title would have been fought against Räikkönen, whenever the Finn's car allowed him to take a race to its conclusion.
Alonso, himself, lucidly recognized in Brazil, as he was taking possession of his Crown, that his adversary for that Crown had been Räikkönen, not M.Schumacher. How has the combative Räikkönen felt, though, upon being given Alonso's message that the real battling between them was to get started only now, that the Championship has numerically been settled?...
As far as we, racing fans, are now concerned, it is of no use reminiscing and trying to envision how much more exciting the Season could have otherwise been, thus far, had Fernando and Kimi truly measured forces throughout the Season. Certainly, it could have been a memorable Championship, independently of who would take the Crown, at the end, to supersede the uninteresting predictability akin to the M.Schumacher-Ferrari dominant years.
But let's look at the bright side: there are two entire Grand Prix weekends left, in which we can at last enjoy watching true racing between the main protagonists in 2005, and from which we can finally derive the feeling that a Championship is taking place.
It goes without saying that I already look forward to the 2006 F1 Season, hoping that (also with the new V8 motors) both McLaren and Renault remain strong, that Toyota, Honda, and Williams-Cosworth find enough performance to close the gap, and that Ferrari can recover just sufficiently so M.Schumacher's usual advantage as preferencial driver allows him a fair-leveled fight with other drivers who do not enjoy the same priviledge. In this dream well-disputed championship, could Red Bull now and then bite at the front-runners? BMW, Midland, and Red Bull Rookie remain the unknown pieces of the puzzle, however all theoretically able to surpass their 2005 performance level.
In the mean time, thanks to the new A1 GP series, I can hope to make up for watching some of the competition that the military-like approach to the current F1 Season (to borrow from G.Villeneuve's enlightening obituary excerpt) has made me feel I have been deprived of, as a fan, in a Season where the possibilities of real thrill and delightful competition were certainly on the table, but regrettably remained unplayed cards, for most of the Championship.