It was 5am and four degrees outside, but I was steaming. The early hours of June 20, 2005 weren’t a good time to be an F1 fan or a person who worked in the sport, however sporadic that work was for me back then. The six-car United States Grand Prix had just finished at Indianapolis, and so angry was I that internal politics, point-scoring and vested interests had combined to basically take a dump on one of the world’s most important sporting and commercial markets had me seething. So, in the dark and cold of a Melbourne winter, I ventured outside for my usual 10km run a little earlier than usual. My fury dissipated with my sweat, but the US Grand Prix would never be the same.
Yes, F1 went back to Indianapolis two more times after the 2005 debacle, but you never felt it would stay long, nor excuse the American fans for never trusting the series again. After that 2007 race at Indy was the last, you’d have thought the sport could never go back. But then came the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, and F1 finally had a home Stateside after a nomadic, on-again off-again relationship.
The winner of that last race at Indy – and the first one at COTA – was one Lewis Hamilton, and while he’s been doing plenty of winning everywhere else since, it’s hard to imagine a country where he’ll be more comfortable as he attempts to wrap up his third F1 title this weekend. In four visits to the country where he spends so much of his time these days, Hamilton has won three times, and you’d find long odds on the 2015 title not being cemented this Sunday.
The man who made his F1 debut in Indy’s last race, Sebastian Vettel, might have something to say about that, but the German and Ferrari can only delay the inevitable for so long. You’d be surprised if modern-day F1’s Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, could postpone Hamilton’s champagne celebrations, as Rosberg has proven this year that he’s a good driver (and a race-winning one) in a great car, but isn’t world championship material (news on whether he washes his hair is yet to be revealed – that’ll come two years after his retirement when he’s telling everyone he doesn’t care for F1 while staying in the news cycle).
No, this weekend looks like the time we’ll be writing about Hamilton matching childhood idol Ayrton Senna with his third world title – the man may polarise opinion, but he deserves credit where it’s due, no matter what you think of him off the track. My view: sure, a bit scattered and a bit vain, but in an environment where, ahem, internal politics, point-scoring and vested interests are enough to fatigue even the most loyal F1 followers, he’s someone who races the right way, is passionate about what he does and draws attention to his sport for mostly good reasons. Unlike what happened at Indy in 2005 …
A comprehensive preview of the US GP features on Episode 123 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week – check it out.