This weekend was a great opportunity to crystalize my feelings on Formula 1, the top level of car racing in the world, and Moto GP, the top level of motorcycle racing.
Formula 1 (meaning, Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosely the FIA president, the FIA and others) has been under immense pressure since the run of Michael Schumacher success to increase the sporting enjoyment and viewing pleasure for many of its fans. With Michael (a German) doing so well at Ferrari (an Italian company), Germany hosted 2 Grand Prix races and Italy still hosts 2 races as well. With Michael not winning the driver’s championship the past two years, the demand in Germany has dried up so that only one race will take place in Germany, and of course with Bernie continuing to court non-European race locations like India, China, another US race possibly and other places, Italy is at risk of losing one of its two races. And then along comes Fernando Alonso, who has ignited the Spanish racing passion and invigorated Renault’s car sales. His two championships have triggered a second race in Spain, so you can see where this is going.
Now all credit to Lewis Hamilton. The guy is a fantastic competitor, very quick, lightning fast, gutsy as hell, and is totally blowing away all the other British drivers and at times even his twice World Champion teammate. I love to watch the races even more now with fresh talent like this. Lewis is the embodiment of the hopes of ALL the recent F1 rookies, rolled into one hyper-competitive package. He looks unstoppable. Right now I think only Alonso can have any chance of stopping him. Maybe Massa and Raikkonen will have a chance if Ferrari sort things out in design and both drivers pull their heads out of their asses.
Now, all that said, Sunday’s race in Canada was thrilling, exciting and joyous – just not because of the racing.
Safety cars are a matter of course in Canada, with walls everywhere and a little-used racing surface. Lewis did get lucky with safety car timing and Alonso somehow tried pulling off a bonehead move into turn one, which gave Lewis plenty of breathing space. After that, I think the race would have been won at most other F1 circuits. At other circuits, Alonso and possibly others would probably have been able to leapfrog Heidfeld in the pits and try to push Lewis into a mistake in one-on-one, mano a mano, wheel to wheel action. But somehow I dont think Lewis would have budged. If Raikkonen is the ice man of F1, Hamilton is the arctic yeti, the ice *mountain*, if you will.
So. A big crash, plenty of smaller crashes, a couple of disqualifications, a couple of penalties. Sounds like normal for Canada, right? So the only major development of the race was really Lewis winning. And he deserved it, I must say. From the third race on, the entire F1 community and all the fans were basically thinking, “Okay, third in his first race, second in his second race, a win’s gotta be next for this storybook tale.” So, truthfully, a TQ and win is not entirely surprising considering what we’d seen in the first few races. A great result for Lewis and customary grumbling from Fernando.
But…contrast the entire Canadian F1 experience with the Moto GP race in Catalunya that took place a few hours before.
You’ve got Valentino Rossi, who, like Michael Schumacher, won many titles in a row and only recently has lost the crown. Rossi, of course, has a personality that he’s not afraid to show in public (unlike Schuie), so he has fans not just because of his accomplishments but also because of his off-track persona.
You’ve got Danny Pedrosa, only into his second year in the Moto GP but totally eclipsing his Championship-winning teammate this year because it’s taking poor Nicky Hayden ages to get used to the handling characteristics of the new 880cc class. Danny is tiny, so he can accelerate faster and brake later than other riders.
Everyone tipped the title battle this year to be Rossi and Pedrosa, totally ignoring every other rider in the class. Until Casey Stoner’s Ducati absolutely smashed all other bikes down the main straight at the first race of the year. Casey is new to the Ducati team and only a couple of years in the Moto GP class. The Ducati is OHMYGODITISFAST quick on long tracks but notsofast in the twisties, which makes for absolutely compelling racing when he’s nose to tail with any other bike on the track.
Ignoring for now the super close and compelling races of the 150cc and 250cc races (well okay, the 250cc race wasn’t close for the win, but the race for the podium was edge-of-your-seat worthy), the last 7 or 8 laps of the Moto GP class were absolutely worth watching the previous 18 or so laps of the race for. Rossi was leading going into the last few laps after testing places to pass Stoner, then Stoner re-took the lead with a couple of laps to go using his Duck power as Pedrosa hung on for dear life and hoped either of the others would go wide or make a mistake. Rossi kept the pressure on, pushing more and more trying to get past Stoner in only a couple of spots he could possibly get a drive on him, but the corners ran out and Stoner crossed the line first, with Rossi in second.
I was gutted for Rossi but thrilled at having watched all three of the riders push their bikes and tires to the ABSOLUTE limit for the entire race.
And in the 150cc and 250cc races, you get JUST as much racing action in each race, plus the added bonus of inter-team rivalries to go along with the usual manufacturer, tire and team rivalries.
All in all, with F1 you get about two and a half hours of usually somewhat interesting racing, but if you watch the three Moto GP classes you get two and a quarter (or so) hours of absolutely gripping race action, with more breathtaking (literally, I’m not just using superlatives here for the sake of using them) and can’t-take-my-eyes-off-the-TV action.
So, Moto GP still wins. Even with Lewis’s first win.