The Inside Line #93: Bleating while taking a beating

TILI Logo PrintNobody likes a whinger – especially when the people doing the whingeing have had things mostly their own way for a very long time – which made Helmut Marko’s comments in the Albert Park paddock after the Australian Grand Prix a bit hard to take. Yes, the team that has won four of the past five drivers’ and constructors’ titles had endured a miserable season-opener, its lead driver coming home a lapped sixth as Mercedes ran rings around the rest – but threatening to withdraw from the sport unless the rules are tweaked in their favour really grated.

There’s no denying that Renault has left Red Bull even further behind the ultimate pace than last season based on what happened in Melbourne [1], but as I see it, that’s not up to the sport’s regulators to fix. Would we like to see a more competitive fight at the top of the F1 pecking order? Sure. Who wouldn’t, besides Mercedes themselves? [2] But to my mind, Mercedes shouldn’t be held back because it has done a better job than everyone else. Every team and engine manufacturer had the same chance to do things better when the new-for-2014 rule changes came in; should Mercedes be penalised for doing something so well that the others can’t keep up? Rather than artificially handcuff the team that has made the best fist of F1’s regulatory revolution, shouldn’t the others lift their games? Or do we dumb down F1 to the lowest common denominator based on that hard-to-define concept of ‘the show’, in case the casual fans get distracted by something else and turn their attentions elsewhere? [3]

Sure, predictability is never a good thing. But so is predictable unpredictability. Remember 2012, when seven different drivers won the first seven races of the year? When, yes, even Pastor Maldonado managed to take a race win in a result that, years from now, will look like a misprint? For the sport’s purists, it was a maddening time. Pirelli’s tyres were having far too much of an effect on the racing, even the teams seemed to have no idea what was coming next, and a lot of very clever people were made to look foolish because of the four black rubber contact patches between car and road were so hard to work out. Of course, some hastily-penned rule changes that year saw an air of familiarity return to the sport, with the team that had interpreted that year’s rules the best staying at the top. And the year after, that same team won 13 Grands Prix, including the last nine of the year. That team, of course, was Red Bull; that year not even two seasons ago. People have very, very short memories in this game; stamping your feet and having a childish ‘it’s not fair’ tantrum is wholly unedifying. Life isn’t fair, so why should sport be? Take your medicine, work hard, do better, and move forwards if you have the capability. Seems to be an approach that has worked for Mercedes, after all.

Post-Australia posturing has taken some of the focus away from the other 18 races on this year’s calendar [4], the first of which takes place at Sepang in Malaysia this weekend. Mercedes might really show what they have on the wide-open sweeps of Hermann Tilke’s first and still best circuit layout, and while that seems a given, the storylines elsewhere are harder to read. Can McLaren recover even a bit from the embarrassment that was Australia? Are Ferrari really back, or are Williams still Mercedes’ greatest challenger, relatively speaking? Will Christian Horner spend a lot of the weekend moaning? [5] And in the heat in Kuala Lumpur, a much more brutal test for man and machine that a cool sunny Sunday in Melbourne, will more cars finish than there are points-paying places available? On circuit and off, it should be a fascinating weekend. Predictable or not.

A Malaysian Grand Prix preview is the focus of Episode 93 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week; check it out on Fox Sports 5 (9pm AEST Wednesday) and ESPN this week if you’re in Australia, and check local guides if you’re watching elsewhere.

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[1] Can’t help but wonder if Red Bull are trying to cite underperformance as a way to extract themselves from their Renault engine supply contract to move to, say, Ferrari – or even someone else not in the sport (yet)?

[2] Well, apparently Nico Rosberg wants a closer fight. Love that Sebastian Vettel called him out on that comment in Australia. I reckon Seb would have quite enjoyed 2011 and 2013, and at least he’s not shy in admitting it. Rosberg couldn’t have sounded less genuine when he said what he said.

[3] Doing something to increase the volume of the cars and the teetering financial situation is far more important than ‘the show’ right now.

[4] Yes, 18 given Germany is cooked. How on earth can we be in a situation where we don’t have a German Grand Prix?

[5] It’s always enjoyable when Oliver Brown at The Telegraph in the UK sharpens his keyboard and takes aim.

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