The Inside Line #83: End of the road

TILI Logo PrintI really enjoyed the on-track product in Formula One this season. The racing was, for a season where one team dominated like no team in the history of the sport, mostly enjoyable up and down the field. New stars like Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas emerged; I had high hopes for the former but he pleasantly surprised me and himself with how well he did, while the latter looked like a gun from the start and delivered on that promise. I enjoyed Romain Grosjean’s radio rants, Jean-Eric Vergne’s ‘ah, what the hell’ approach to the final races after he’d been dumped by Toro Rosso for 2015 [1], and seeing Sebastian Vettel’s bottom lip stuck out when it became clear that Ricciardo’s stunning and assured pace in Melbourne in the first race was no one-off. And I enjoyed the fact the right man won the title.

I watched the goings-on from Abu Dhabi from afar after planning on being trackside for most of the year; commercial pressures with publishers being as they are, I wasn’t about to fly halfway across the world for the chance of something being published in an industry where the per-word rate hasn’t changed since before Jenson Button was an F1 rookie (and that’s when people bother to pay you for work they’ve commissioned). And I watched those goings-on with some trepidation because of double-points and me wondering about the fallout if Nico Rosberg managed to deny Hamilton a title that he’d earned the right to keep. Ten wins by Hamilton to Rosberg’s five meant it was slightly ludicrous that we even had a live title fight in Abu Dhabi, but to give Rosberg credit [2], he’d been right there all season, banking second places like no driver before and waiting in the wings for Hamilton to get it wrong. A smart, calculating strategy and one that almost brought the ultimate reward. While there were winners and losers in Abu Dhabi, both drivers finished 2014 with their reputations enhanced from their on-track deeds.

F1’s reputation for what is going on off-track, sadly, has been sullied by many this year. That’s a lengthy subject for another time, but there were times this season that I didn’t feel like a sports journalist at all. Discussing the perils of skiing off-piste, frantically researching diffuse axonal brain injuries, learning to instinctively spell ‘Azerbaijan’ and familiarising myself with the concept of crowdfunding weren’t things I expected to do this season, but it’s been that kind of year in F1. As always, it’s been a soap opera interrupted every fortnight for a car race, and while it hasn’t always been easy or fun, it has been compelling. And, as I always remind myself the moment the chequered flag drops on the final race of the season, my home race in Australia is next. 110 days away, for those counting at home. Vettel in red, the number ‘1’ on the nosecone of a Mercedes, Alonso posing awkwardly for photos with Ron Dennis in the Albert Park paddock, Aussie journalists asking inane questions about local football to Ricciardo [3] … it’s all of three months away.

Before that, there’s the final race of a season to sum up, which is the focus of Episode 83 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week. I had to do a double-take at the final standings graphics because of the inflated numbers thanks to double points, but they’re just part of a review that looks at the finale from every possible angle. Also, we take a trip through the Milton Keynes base of Red Bull Racing with none other than Mr Halliwell [4] as our guide. Mostly fun, a little clunky and great access, although I wish we could have eavesdropped on his phone calls a little more …

You can see ‘The Inside Line’ on Fox Sports 5 and ESPN if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching in one of the 30-plus countries elsewhere that broadcast the show.

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[1] Vergne might have kept his job had he driven like that from the start. He definitely has the pace to stay in F1, but his pockets might not be deep enough, unfortunately for him.

[2] Which I rarely do, I admit. There were some really interesting insights on Rosberg in Will Buxton’s piece last week. I know and like Will a lot and there’s plenty of his energy in the piece (if a little too much of Will), but his anecdotes on dealing with Rosberg resonated big-time. If there’s someone in F1 who conducts every conversation as a transaction – “I’m giving you nothing unless there’s something in this for me” – more than Rosberg, I’m yet to meet them.

[3] That and seeing, say, German F1 drivers posing with AFL players for photos and having to make small-talk between shots are my best/worst cringe-worthy moments of F1’s annual visit to my home country. Just. Stop. It.

[4] Loved Claire Williams’ call last week. Spot on.

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