Phew. Another year done, my 18th working in and around F1 to various degrees in a media capacity, and one that will be remembered for being more dramatic than the history books will show 15 years from now. You never stop gaining knowledge about the sport and the people in it year on year, so here’s what I learned in 2014.
1. One-team dominance can be fun
This wasn’t the Ferrari of the early 2000s, when Rubens Barrichello wasn’t allowed to race Michael Schumacher even when he was occasionally faster, and you knew the results of each race well in advance. Which, as a Rubens fan, I hated. Lost a little in all of the negativity off-track about F1 and the cacophony of noise that surrounded the lack of noise the new-generation cars made early in the season was just how awesome the W05 was this year, and Mercedes probably deserved more credit. Thanks goodness their drivers were allowed to race one another and were capable of racing one another. The right driver won the title, and given 2015 is shaping up as being more of the same, the driver who didn’t win will be better for his first taste of being in a title fight. Should be compelling viewing.
2. There’s no time like the present
Say you’d spent the best part of 20 years working on forming a professional relationship with someone who was an unloved battler who blossomed into a global sporting star. Say you’d done everything to make that relationship rock-solid, even if it came at a cost to your credibility, judgement, and reputation as you strategically elbowed people aside to maintain your position. And say you then missed your one golden chance for a big payday because you hung onto something that wasn’t there any more out of greed, trying to squeeze a few more drops out of the lemon, and another brighter, younger and more personable star eclipsed “your” cash cow and made him very much yesterday’s man. The lesson: spend it while you have it, and before it isn’t worth what it was. The world moves too fast these days to do otherwise.
3. F1 is better with Williams at the front
To my mind, the motorsport image of the year was Valentino Rossi standing on the top step of the podium at Misano in Italy, the massive crowd who’d invaded the track in the background, and everyone going nuts. MotoGP is undoubtedly in a great place when ‘The Doctor’ is at the sharp end, as is F1 when Williams is doing well. Everyone likes Williams, its people, the tradition and the history. To see a team with such a successful past having a bright future again was a heart-warming turn of events.
4. You can’t sell a secret
You’ve got something nobody else does, something that is established, isn’t lacking for star power and has the goodwill of the people on the inside of the sport to make a contribution. And then you fail to tell anyone about it, meaning it disappears into the ether and gets swamped by fictitious click bait about driver salaries and other mis-information from people who don’t know better. It’s all very well having something to sell, but nobody’s buying if you keep it to yourself.
5. Wolff was man of the year
He didn’t drive a single lap, and spent some of his year in plaster and with a red face. But thank goodness for Toto Wolff this season. Setting the groundwork for the Mercedes drivers to race one another – the ‘Rules of Engagement’ document established in Australia which had contributions from senior management and both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – saved us from a dreary season. Wolff stood by Mercedes’ decision all season when it would have been very easy to cave, and Mercedes – and the fans who wanted a sporting contest – got what it wanted as a result.
6. The sport can be its own worst enemy
Where do you even start with this? The sport doesn’t want or need young fans, apparently. The cars sound different, so let’s shit-can them. We’ll devote the final half-hour of a Grand Prix coverage to showing Bernie Ecclestone and Vladimir Putin sitting in the grandstand together (which made me feel slightly dirty for even watching). The sport doesn’t sell itself, relying on the teams to promote everything along with the various event promoters around the world, some of whom do a fantastic job, and others who do next to nothing. The press conference structure is old, tired and nobody wants to be there. The celebrities doing podium interviews nonsense hit new lows with Nelson Piquet in Brazil this year as he trivialised a world championship fight by making a crass, sexist and completely inappropriate comment. There’s so much to like about modern F1, but the sport seems to succeed in spite of itself sometimes.
7. Ferrari is the best at something
If there was an award for most comical management or greatest bloodletting this season, Ferrari wins by a mile. Sack two team principals. Sack the engine boss. Have the president leave. Have the worst season by your team in a generation thanks to a car with poor aerodynamics being propelled by an engine that was underpowered and no match for Mercedes. Oh, and piss your number one asset in Fernando Alonso off sufficiently that he wants to leave two years early. Even by Ferrari standards, that’s a crazy year. Nothing in any other team came close. Still, at least they have Kimi Raikkonen for next year …
8. Money can buy anything
Bernie isn’t in jail. Any questions?
9. Plagiarism is thriving
I interviewed a driver earlier this year with no-one else around, and conducted a test. I mentioned a word that they wouldn’t have used normally and framed a question so they’d agree with it, and more than likely use said word in response. Which they did. I then wrote the story, included the quote, waited 24 hours and typed the driver’s name and said word into Google. The first three pages of references contained the quote word for word, no attribution, spun into a million different directions in copy from publications and websites all over the world. One notorious bottom-feeder claimed it as an exclusive, as I knew she would. Amazing. Even in an industry where I’ve seen one big-name writer hover behind people while they’re crashing words into their laptops and then get on the phone to break an “exclusive” to their employer before the person had finished their story, that was impressive.
10. Be thankful for what you have
Media in most places is a bit of a basket case, and especially in Australia. Print media is worse. Print media for freelancers is worse still. And print media for freelancers who cover anything other than football … In the face of all of that, 2014 has been an amazing year, and I’m enormously thankful for those who have been and continue to be supportive. In no particular order, and with apologies to those I forget: Pete and especially Tim at Intrepid for handing me the keys and letting me drive. Andrew and Peter downstairs with the comfy couch, their professional approach, and pushing the extra one per cent. Marc and Aaron in Sydney for putting up with the email deluge at 2am and helping me maintain a run that started in 1998. Those at the AGPC who have thrown their support behind ‘Keeping Track’, which somehow has made it to 37 episodes. Spud and co at Spencer St for the space and finding budget where there isn’t any. Graem at Inside Sport for keeping the dream of long-form journalism alive. Tony for allowing me to pretend to be a radio person. Fox for picking up the phone when something big breaks. Gabi at Premium in Perth (and thanks, Norm). Thomas at Bauer. And everyone for reading. I’ll have another go next year. Can’t wait.