The Inside Line #76: Dominoes, snakes and ladders

TILI Logo PrintWhat was that I was saying about things happening at the Japanese Grand Prix? I’m not sure I’ve seen a press room react like it did seven minutes before final practice in Japan last Saturday, when an email innocuously titled ‘New Team Driver Line-Up for 2015’ lobbed into inboxes of every open laptop. There was initial silence, some disbelief, and then all hell broke loose as the sport’s insiders reacted to the news that Sebastian Vettel was (definitely) leaving Red Bull Racing and (almost certainly) off to Ferrari next season.

That a final hour-long practice session was taking place 20 metres away was of little interest to most of the 400 or so hacks in the press room, who were a little preoccupied. With so many seats still up for grabs for 2015, we needed one domino to fall to set off a chain reaction; the domino fell alright, but not the one we thought, and certainly not at the time we suspected.

How did Vettel keep his intentions to himself until the last minute? Firstly, he doesn’t do social media, and there was a certain irony that a man who ignores Twitter almost broke it in the 30 minutes after his announcement. And then there’s his manager, or lack thereof; a little-known fact outside the sport is that Vettel manages himself, does his own contract negotiations and generally keeps his own counsel. It’s hard for a leak to emerge if the one person who knows what’s going on keeps his mouth closed, which the always-careful German makes a habit of. Yes, he speaks, but when you listen to any of his carefully-crafted soundbites for the press (and by association, the sport’s fans), he doesn’t really say anything of note very often [1]. Quite how Christian Horner felt when Vettel sent him a text message on Friday night at Suzuka asking to have a chat would be interesting to know. Sick to the stomach, probably, but also confirming something he would have suspected would happen. That Vettel is moving to Ferrari isn’t a surprise; what took most people aback was the timing of it and that it was kept so quiet. Loose lips sink ships, and all of that.

Speaking of sporting events suitable for nautical vessels … a comprehensive review of a sodden Japanese Grand Prix is the focus of Episode 76 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, where the build-up to a race that had significant title implications was almost forgotten [2] in the wake of the Vettel news and everyone keeping a beady eye on the progress of Typhoon Phanfone. Don’t get me started on maintaining the 3pm start time for a race that could have been held easily before midday with no interruptions (that’s a rant, er, considered piece, for another time). [3]

Also in this week’s episode, we preview next weekend’s inaugural Russian GP through the eyes of the man who’ll take Vettel’s place at Red Bull next season, Daniil Kvyat. The 20-year-old looked as surprised as the rest of us when he was hastily announced as Vettel’s 2015 successor on Saturday in Japan (in the sixth and final line of the hand grenade/press release that stopped the F1 world cold); with just 15 F1 races under his belt, Kvyat has a big, big climb ahead of him next season. [4]

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday October 8, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday October 9.

– — —- —-

[1] The young and more carefree Vettel was one of the better interviews in the paddock with his sense of humour and Little Britain-inspired profanity-spiced English; these days, there’s a cautious world-weariness about his interactions with the media.

[2] The Hamilton cheerleading by certain members of the press stopped for about 10 minutes on Saturday. It soon picked up again, mind you.

[3] Sigh. More sighing.

[4] Everyone that drove for Red Bull-backed teams used to be called Sebastian/Sebastien. Now it’s various versions of Daniel. Perhaps people can start to learn to pronounce the names of Red Bull’s 2015 drivers properly, particularly ones who have won Grands Prix. It’s ‘Rick-ardo’ (mate), get it right …

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