Nigel Roebuck




REFLECTIONS me A faces tne fa out after Ba nrdn dsgrace

So wnat was troub Hg LeWs h Vonte Caro?

nless private jets are part of your life, travel, as we know, becomes a little more unpalatable with every passing year. After getting to New York with BA (no problem), I boarded a Delta flight to Montreal, and when the captain announced we wouldn’t be going after all — bad weather had closed in — there was considerable disappointment, for by now we had been seated for a total of five and a half hours, and that seemed like a long time, particularly as no food or drink was on offer. Actually, I tell a lie — eventually we were each Oven a small polystyrene cup of bottled water.

The following day’s flights to Montreal were all full — “There’s a big race on up there…” — but at close on midnight, after only a couple of hours’ negotiation, an alternative arrangement was offered: “The good news,” the man said, “is that there is one seat on a Montreal flight tomorrow.”

And the bad? “It’s out of Atlanta…”

Nothing else for it, then. The following morning I flew due south for two and a half hours, waited a similar length of time in Atlanta, then flew in the opposite direction for three hours to my originally intended destination. It’s a full life, as they say. Oh, by the way, did I mention that I’d spent the night in La Guardia Airport? No hotel rooms, you see. Too many cancelled flights… Still, once in Montreal, there were compensations. It’s a city I have always very much enjoyed, there was a highly diverting interview with Niki Lauda (which will appear in the next issue), and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve invariably throws up an eventful race. Assuredly that was the case this time, complete with a mid-race monsoon — which stopped proceedings for more than two hours — and a quite brilliant drive by Jenson Button, who succeeded in

pressuring Sebastian Vettel into a mistake on the last lap.

As well as that, the weekend in the paddock had not been dominated, as originally anticipated, by discussion of the wretched Bahrain Grand Prix, for the matter had been settled —with commendable alacrity — by a meeting of the teams the previous weekend.

As we know, Formula 1 will not now be returning to Bahrain in 2011, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying by some. The matter may be resolved — for this year, anyway — but I can’t let happenings of the recent past go by without comment. Let us look back over events as they unfolded, and consider the backdrop of the real world as they did so. From what I saw and heard in the Monaco paddock at the end of May, the feeling among the teams, knowing that a

decision on Bahrain was due from the FIA within days, was that it was unlikely the Grand Prix would be put back into the 2011 calendar — and even if it were they were disinclined to take part in it. Bernie Ecclestone, meantime, maintained that the whole thing had nothing — nothing — whatever to do with money, and you had to admire the way he kept a straight face, like the FIFA bunch when they awarded the World Cup to Qatar. In my experience, Formula 1 is always about money. Bernie’s lack of sympathy for circuits in difficulties

— Montreal and Spa both ‘lost’ their race for a year — is well established, so why else would he have bent over backwards to accommodate Bahrain? The day after the Monaco Grand Prix Jean Todt dispatched FIA Commissioner Carlos Gracia to Bahrain to get the lie of the land, and after spending a day — a

whole day — there Gracia produced a report to the effect that Bahrain was a jolly nice place, where all was sweetness and light, with everyone getting along famously. One of the report’s conclusions was that, ‘Life in Bahrain is completely normal again’.

Gracia’s report was signed off on Thursday June 2, immediately prior to the World Motor Sport Council meeting in Barcelona, where the question of Bahrain would be discussed and a decision taken. That same day The Economist published a rather different picture of life in Bahrain. Entitled ‘The Loathing Persists’, it began thus: ‘On June 1, two and a half months after a fierce crackdown on Bahrain’s mainly Shia protesters, the ruling al-Khalifa family, which is Sunni, officially lifted a state of emergency that had been imposed with vigorous military support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 1119,

Tanks which had been manning city-centre junctions chugged back to bases farther out, hoping to give foreigners’ — like Sr Gracia? — ‘and locals alike a sense that normality had returned.

‘The body that governs Formula 1 motor racing is to decide whether to hold a race in Bahrain later this year: it had been postponed because of the unrest. If the green light is given, the authorities will hail the decision as a sign of international recognition that all is well again. But it is not.

‘The crackdown has restored a face of calm. Shia protesters and the few Sunnis who campaigned at their side are lying low, hoping the terror may pass them by. By using ruthless methods in the hope of preserving their power, the al-Khalifas may in the long run be storing up even more trouble and resentment for a shaky future.’

In the course of his day there, seeking the unvarnished truth about the state of affairs in Bahrain, Gracia had meetings with such parties as Shaikh Abdulla bin Isa al-Khalifa (president of the Bahraini ASN), Shaikha Mai bint Mohammed al-Khalifa (Minister of Culture), Lt General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa (Minister of the Interior), and Shaikh Salman bin Essa alKhalifa (CEO of the Bahrain International Circuit). Cynics may spot a pattern here.

In the course of that week, while Gracia was on his ‘fact-finding’ mission, Max Mosley put in his two-penn’orth. Although Mosley no longer runs the FIA, there are times when it seems to slip his mind, and this was one such. “If I were president today,” Max said, “Formula 1 would go to Bahrain over my dead body. The Grand Prix will be used to paint a picture of Bahrain that will be false. They will attempt to use it to support what they are doing — almost using Fl as an instrument of repression. There is only one reason why Fl is in Bahrain, and that is a political reason. To go there will be a public relations disaster, and sponsors will want their liveries removed.” It had been quite a while since I found myself in agreement with Mosley about anything of a political nature in motor

racing, but on this occasion I wholly endorsed what he had to say. In a way it surprised me that he expressed an opinion so contrary to Ecclestone’s — from the day of the race’s original postponement in March Bernie had been keen to see it restored as soon as possible — but perhaps times had moved on from the joined-atthe-hip days when Max was master of all he surveyed at the Place de le Concorde. As well as that, perhaps his words gained additional bite from his known lack of enthusiasm for the way the FIA has been run since his departure. As it was, though, I put such unworthy thoughts aside, and wholeheartedly concurred. On the afternoon of Friday June 3, the day after Gracia presented his report, the World Motor Sport Council announced the rescheduling of the Bahrain Grand Prix late

this year, and said that the vote in favour had been unanimous. (I don’t know about you, but nothing raises suspicion in my mind like a unanimous vote — particularly on a matter as controversial as this.) In making its declaration, the governing body said, ‘This decision reflects the spirit of reconciliation in Bahrain’. Evidently that spirit had been swiftly achieved, for in the papers that very morning there were reports of a march — met with rubber bullets and tear gas — in memory of a man,

65-year-old Salman Isa Abu Idrees, who had been tortured to death by the authorities, and a woman, Zainab Altajer, who had died the day before as a result of exposure to tear gas.

Immediately Bahraini protest groups announced a ‘Day of Rage’ to coincide with the rescheduled Grand Prix. Was anyone surprised? And was anyone surprised, either, that the FIA’s decision was greeted instantly with vituperative condemnation across the world? Silence gives consent, after all, and if Fl were blithely to front up in Bahrain, it would, as a leader in The Times put it, ‘signify Western validation of a despotic regime’. Todt and his men must have known that was coming, yet still unfathomably went ahead. His predecessor now pitched in yet more strongly. Writing in The Daily Telegraph,

Mosley began by fundamentally agreeing with Ecclestone’s long-held contention that sport and politics should be kept separate, on the grounds that if the very highest standards of human rights were applied, a very great number of countries would necessarily be excluded from international sport, and if anything less were applied there would be endless debate about where to draw the line. A pragmatic conclusion, you might say, but the fundamental logic is irrefutable.

In the case of Bahrain, however, Mosley considered the matter cut and dried. “Surely the line has to be drawn when a sporting event is not mere entertainment in a less-than-perfect country, but is being used by an oppressive regime to camouflage its actions. If a sport accepts this role, it becomes a tool of government. If Formula 1 allows itself to be used in this way in Bahrain, it will share the regime’s guilt as surely as if it went out and helped brutalise unarmed protesters.”

Mosley then pointed out that the troubles in Bahrain began with peaceful protest; there had been no demand that the ruling family be removed, merely that there be a move towards democracy and rights for the Shia majority, which has long been subjugated by the Sunni hierarchy. Lest we forget, these protests were met with savage repression. As I wrote a few months ago, I decided — before the race was

called off — to cancel my trip in March when I heard eyewitness reports of ambulances being actively prevented by troops and police from ferrying the injured to hospital. There followed reports of attacks on medical staff attempting to treat the injured, and these continue to this day. Ecclestone, of course, had been keen for the Grand Prix to proceed as originally scheduled in the spring, and when it became clear that such a thing was out of the question — the Foreign Office issued warnings that no one should travel to Bahrain

unless it were absolutely necessary — he lost no time in saying that the race should be rescheduled as soon as was practicable, or, to put it another way, as soon as martial law was lifted. Bernie even spoke of running the race in

August, during the customary three-week break, but that was instantly dismissed by the Fl team principals who pointed out that, a) this mid-season break had been instigated originally to allow mechanics et al to reacquaint themselves with their families, and b) in Bahrain it tends to be on the warm side in August. Therefore, it was left that if possible the race would be shovelled into the schedule

somewhere towards the end of the season. It would be a pain in the neck for all concerned, but in truth not too many — at least not too many of those who kept up with the news — believed there was a chance in hell of it happening. Then came the WMSC’s announcement that the Bahrain Grand Prix was indeed on again, and would be run on October 30 — the date originally scheduled for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix. As for New Delhi, well, that would become the last race of the year, held in December, maybe the 4th,

maybe the 11th… This truly bordered on farce. Ross Brawn had already spoken for many when he railed against the possibility of extending the season beyond its scheduled conclusion, at Interlagos on November 27. To do so, Ross said,

would be to ignore the welfare of the teams’ personnel, deserving of a break after countless months on the road. Ecclestone, of course, famously doesn’t ‘do holidays’.

Others do, though, including Formula 1 fans, many of whom had made plans to be in New Delhi on October 30. “I don’t suppose,” one commented bitterly on a website, “that any of these clowns understand what’s meant by a ‘nonrefundable’ plane ticket…”

As Montreal loomed there was talk of a FOTA meeting, but the teams — no doubt aware that the Bahrain decision would serve to feed the prejudices of those many who regard Fl people as a bunch of avaricious chancers — met the weekend before (immediately after the decision from Barcelona), and concluded they would not take part in the race.

Keeping clear of any mention of ‘civil rights’ or the like — as usual Mark Webber had been the only Fl figure to speak out on a controversial matter — they justified their decision by saying that impromptu changes to the calendar were unacceptable. Thus the matter was resolved before anyone boarded a flight across the Atlantic, and in the Montreal paddock all we were left with was the detritus of a fiasco. Concluding his Telegraph piece, Mosley said he believed there was no chance of the Bahrain race being run — it was almost 111}

as if he knew something, and perhaps he did. No one, after all, is on better terms with the FIA rulebook than Max. To effect a change in the World Championship schedule requires ‘unanimous agreement by all competitors already entered’, and he will have been aware that such a thing would not be forthcoming. Had a similar thought, though, not crossed the minds of those currently in power?

Come to that, following the same WMSC meeting which voted through the reinstatement of Bahrain, an Fl calendar for 2012 was published, beginning with… Bahrain. Despite the fact that Article 5:4 of the FIA Fl Regulations stipulates that ‘the maximum number of events in the World Championship is 20’, the schedule contained 21 —whereupon Todt immediately stated that, in fact, only 20 would be run! What was going on here?

A strange sport, Fl. In some respects, notably in its wish to be seen as environmentally aware, to respect the ‘green’ lobby, to move towards cleaner, more efficient and economical engines, to embrace hybrid technology and so on, it exhibits an awareness of image, a desire to be looked upon as a responsible activity, in tune with the times — yet simultaneously demonstrates a willingness to pitch its tent in this land or that, despotic or not, so long as the price is right.

Plenty of folk have told me that they saw the FIA’s Bahrain decision coming, and certainly it’s a fact that the ending of martial law in the country happily coincided with the (extended) deadline set by the governing body for a resolution one way or the other.

I’ll confess, though, that even after 40 years of exposure to the machinations and duplicities of Fl, still I was surprised by the statement issued on June 3. Perhaps I hoped that Todt and Ecclestone eta! would not wish to be seen to support a regime which locks up a 20-year-old woman for reading a poem at a pro-democracy rally. That was at the beginning of April, after police threatened to kill her brothers unless she turned herself in. She complied, and has been detained ever since.

One has to wonder how and why the FIA saw fit to take a decision which it must have known would bring worldwide opprobrium down not only on itself, but, more importantly, on the sport which it governs. If the FIA took up a position which absolved it of responsibility were the Bahrain race not in the end to take place, it has rebounded on them, for the teams made their decision not to participate, Ecclestone announced that the race wouldn’t happen — and the governing body finished up looking like the only faction which had been in favour of it. The bad guy.

Machiavellians point out that on a variety of matters Ecclestone and Todt have recently been at loggerheads, and that Mosley’s devotion to the FIA regime which succeeded him is known to be muted. Whatever the truth of the matter, the management of the Bahrain saga was inescapably shambolic, and it shames our sport that a return there this year — or any time soon — was so much as contemplated.

“Please don’t tell my mother I’m in politics,” goes the American joke from the Great Depression. “She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse…”

rfhere was a time when I was very fond of Monaco. Not long out of school, I went there for the first time in 1968, and although the race itself was not memorable — long before half-distance only five cars were running — the sight of Grand Prix cars at such close quarters was unforgettable. I became an instant fan of Johnny ServozGavin — surely the best name for a racing driver ever, rivalled only by Clay Regazzoni

— who stood in for an injured Jackie Stewart, and, racing a Formula 1 car for the first time, put Ken Tyrrell’s MatraCosworth on the front row.

On Saturday morning, when it rained, Servoz-Gavin was two seconds quicker than anyone else, and his pace and deftness through Casino Square was something to see. On race day he took the lead at the start, but unfortunately got carried away with the moment, and on the second lap made a mistake at the chicane. It was exactly the same as that made a

year earlier by Lorenzo Bandini, but the consequences were starkly different. Where Servoz clouted a guardrail and continued on to the pits with damaged suspension, Bandini’s Ferrari had hit straw bales, somersaulted and come to rest upside down and ablaze. Three days later Lorenzo died from hideous burns, and it was decided that henceforth straw bales were not acceptable for use in Fl. Not at quick corners, anyway. They were still in place at the Station Hairpin the following year when I came to a place I had only read about, and found glamorous beyond belief. There was the elegant Edwardian skyline, the road-registered Ferrari TR61 parked across from the Hotel de Paris, the stunning vision of Princess Grace — and there was the collection of Grand Prix

drivers who would pop down to the TipTop Bar, swig beer from the bottle, and chat easily with fans, of whom I was one.

A very big deal, the Tip-Top, in those days. Wherever you’d been for the evening, it was a matter of course to finish up outside the bar — it was always too packed to get in, even if you’d wanted to — and stand on the very piece of Tarmac used by the cars not long before. On race night the winner would traditionally, on leaving the Gala Prizegiving at the Hotel de Paris, walk down the road to the famous bar, where a rousing welcome was assured. I particularly remember 1970, remember watching the Rindts — Jochen and Nina — crossing Casino Square, swinging the trophy between them, like kids on an outing. This had been perhaps Jochen’s greatest victory, and certainly his most dramatic, and he stayed down at the Tip-Top into the early hours. I came back from that trip and told my friends I felt I’d been at the centre of the world.

It was the lamented Innes Ireland who long ago christened the place `Moneyco’. Over time the Edwardian backdrop was increasingly dwarfed, shoved aside by the jagged angles of a zillion apartment blocks. As with Manhattan, you’re talking about a tiny area needing to accommodate a great many people, and, as with Manhattan, the only way is up — hence it looks constantly like the world’s most exclusive building site.

Monaco, it seems to me, is infinitely more fashionable than it used to be, and emphatically less stylish.

For all that, it is the piece of real estate which, pound for pound, houses more racing drivers than any other on earth, and every year I find myself thinking, ‘Ye Gods, how many millions do you guys need to keep?’ Brother Monegasque is famous for his lax attitude to taxation, which accounts — as Gerhard Berger long ago admitted — for the popularity of the self-important little

Principality. But I always quietly admired Carlos Reutemann, a racing driver of unusual discernment, for preferring to keep a little less money for the pleasure of living in the sublime hamlet of St Jean Cap Ferrat rather than the rabbit warren a few miles down the coast. Like most of my

colleagues, I long ago gave up staying in Monaco for Grand Prix week — to me there is something intensely claustrophobic about it, and at the end of each day it is good to escape to a place which has never materially changed, where restaurant tables don’t need to be booked days in advance.

In one respect, though, not staying in Monaco this year was probably a mistake. In normal circumstances it takes about half an hour to drive from Cap Ferrat, but on the Thursday morning the traffic on the lower Corniche was at a crawl, and the journey required more than two hours. Why? Because at the first roundabout into Monaco one needs to turn right towards Fontvieille, but this year the road was thoughtfully closed. I asked a gendarme why this was so. A Gallic shrug, then two fingers rubbed together to indicate ‘money’. “They are building,” he said, and he added that the road would be closed throughout the weekend — in fact, probably throughout the summer. You might have thought, as I did, that it would have been a sound plan to have Monaco’s cluttered roads as uncluttered as possible for the weekend of the Principality’s biggest annual event. Instead we were diverted — in single file — through endless tiny streets, and the inference seemed clear: “Yes, it’s inconvenient for visitors — but so what?” Innes, my old friend, you had it right. E)

I wasn’t, therefore, in perhaps the best frame of mind when finally I reached the paddock, and as the weekend progressed it seemed that neither was Lewis Hamilton. Over the last two or three years many observers — including such as Jackie Stewart and Niki Lauda — have suggested that Hamilton somehow doesn’t seem to be quite at peace with himself. One thinks back to 2007, the year of his F1 debut, when he endlessly said he was ‘living the dream’, and finds oneself thinking that perhaps he has never been as consistently impressive as he was that first year. Lewis has always been brilliant at Monaco, and this year his chances seemed

excellent of taking on — and maybe beating — Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull. Even on the opening day, though, he seemed out of sorts, and one wondered what might have unsettled him.

The only thing I could think of was news of Fernando Alonso’s new, five-year agreement with Ferrari. Contracts of this duration are mighty unusual, and some thought both sides illadvised to commit themselves for so long, citing Jenson Button’s similar agreement with Honda, which effectively trapped him in an uncompetitive car for many seasons. It’s unlikely, though, that a Ferrari driver

would find himself in that situation. Yes, some years are better than others — unless you drive an Adrian Newey car such are the facts of life — but overall Ferrari is always going to be in the picture, and Alonso is aware of this. I can well understand why Fernando has agreed this deal with Luca di Montezemolo. Clearly he is an increasingly powerful figure

at Maranello, one of those rare folk — like Prost, like Senna, like Schumacher — with the strength of character and weight of personality to become more than simply a driver. Of course things can change, in F1 as in anything else, but Alonso well knows that at present there are only three teams worthy of a great driver’s consideration.

Given the precipitate and acrimonious split with McLaren at the end of 2007, a return there is out of the question, from both parties’ points of view. Fernando has said he intends to spend the rest of his driving career with Ferrari, but were he to seek an alternative his only option would be Red Bull — and why would they jeopardise the stability of the team by employing a number one driver when they already have one? Some team principals cling to the belief that employing two number ones is something for which one should always strive. Perhaps — in a perfect world — that

would be the case, but the world is not perfect, and perhaps, as the saying goes, the only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. “You cannot,” Frank Williams once said to me, “put two bulls in one field…” What Alonso’s deal with Ferrari does, of course, is to rule out any question of Hamilton’s moving there for the foreseeable future. And just as I doubt that Red Bull — in particular Helmut Marko — would have risked Vettel’s equilibrium by signing Alonso, so the same surely goes for Hamilton. These things being so, Lewis’s bargaining power would now seem to be

seriously reduced, and I doubt that this has escaped him and his new managers. He has said on occasion that he sees no reason why he should not be at McLaren for his entire career, but of late has been openly critical of the team in a way he never used to be when ‘living the dream’, and it’s perhaps a short-sighted attitude, given that Martin Whitmarsh et al invariably defend him on

those occasions when the fault for a disappointing result lies with his impetuosity. Lewis is an all-or-nothing racer, and I love that in a driver — as I’ve said before, his approach reminds me more of Gilles Villeneuve than of his own hero, Ayrton Senna — but inevitably this comes at a price. To me, his biggest fault as a driver is that he repeatedly puts himself at the mercy of another, and sometimes this is costly. “Do that,” said Jackie Stewart after Lewis’s firstlap contretemps with Massa at Monza last year, “and it’s always your fault…”

I think, too, that Hamilton lacks Jenson Button’s ability to think for himself, and tends to go automatically with what the team suggests. Before qualifying at Monaco he was most people’s favourite to take pole position, and in Q2 duly set the fastest time, but when it was suggested that for Q3 he should make a single run right at the end of the 10 minutes he didn’t disagree.

Button, meantime, recognised that at Monaco anything can happen and went out early to do a ‘banker’ lap, which, as it turned out, was beaten only by Vettel. With three minutes to go Hamilton was out on the circuit — but then came the accident to Perez at the chicane, and the session was red-flagged. By the time it was restarted time was short, allowing Lewis a single hot lap, in the course of which he ran over the chicane after the swimming pool, causing his time to be discounted. Thus he would line up last of the Q3 qualifiers, and his remarks afterwards suggested that he had been unhappy with the team’s recommendation, but went along with it.

Hamilton started ninth, less than ideal at Monaco of all places, but in the recent past both Schumacher and Alonso have started from the very back and come through to finish well in the points. “It was just a matter of being patient,” said Michael at the time, “and taking opportunities as they came up.”

Hamilton, though, drove like a man in a bad mood — and it probably wasn’t improved on lap one, when Schumacher passed him into the hairpin. It was a moment of the old Michael, the supreme opportunist, and the move was as clinical and efficient as you like. It’s not often that Lewis is caught napping. Later in the race, when he attempted to pass Massa in the same place, Lewis made a complete mess of it. The move was never on, but instead of backing out of it, he took to the pavement. The cars inevitably E1,

touched, and it profited him nothing, for Felipe was still ahead as they accelerated down towards Portiers. You could call Hamilton’s manoeuvre all

manner of things, from impatient to clumsy to cackhanded, but what struck me most was the stupidity of it. Contact, after all, was guaranteed, and he must have known that his own car — let alone Massa’s — was virtually certain to suffer some damage. Later still, of course, Lewis also made contact with Pastor Maldonado’s Williams at Ste Devote — and this incident, too, he blamed

on the other driver. I didn’t see it that way I’m afraid: Maldonado, who had driven beautifully all weekend, was entitled to defend his place, and it was sad to see him lose what would have been the first World Championship points of his career.

If we expected any contrition from Hamilton for these incidents, we didn’t get it. Instead, in a remarkable outburst, he blamed Massa and Maldonado for the incidents, calling them ‘stupid’, and then proceeded to complain about the stewards’ treatment of him, intimating that he was being picked on. Why? He didn’t know, he said — before adding, “Maybe it’s because I’m black…”

If I’d been one of the stewards — including the driver advising them at Monaco, Allan McNish — I’d have felt inclined to punch Lewis for daring to suggest such a thing. Later he was duly called back to the circuit by the McLaren management, and ordered to apologise to the stewards. It’s a fact that journalists, myself included, have long bemoaned the humungous growth in PR and political correctness in Fl, which has effectively muzzled the drivers, restricting them to utterances of numbing blandness. That being so, it might sound churlish to complain when a driver for once gives vent to his feelings, but I’m afraid I just saw it as a childish rant, in

which everyone was at fault but our Lewis. No one needs to be told that he is a brilliant racing driver — as he reminded us with his pursuit of Vettel in the late laps at Barcelona — but maturity is taking its time in arriving.

Vettel, Alonso and Button did us proud at Monaco, I thought, and as the three of them circulated together in the closing laps we witnessed a remarkable display of Grand Prix driving, all three of them right at the limit, and not a mistake in sight. The sense of anti-climax was overwhelming when the race was unavoidably red-flagged following the multiple accident at the swimming pool.

As the cars came to a halt on the grid, it was a surprise to learn that the race, with but a handful of laps to run, would be restarted. Not having a rulebook to hand, I was unsure about exactly what was permitted, in terms of fettling the cars. The McLaren mechanics went to work on Hamilton’s damaged rear wing, and that was one thing, but I confess I was amazed to learn that changing tyres was also permitted. That killed the Monaco Grand Prix right there, for the only hope for Alonso and Button was that Vettel’s elderly tyres would go off to a point that he was no longer able to defend himself. The Red Bull’s amazing traction had the Ferrari licked out of Rascasse, but even so Alonso had been close a time or two in Ste Devote, and after the

race he was immensely disappointed, having felt confident of getting past before the end.

Once Vettel’s car was on to fresh tyres, however, it asserted its natural superiority, and the game was over. Memo to the FIA: in next year’s rulebook, ban the changing of tyres in circumstances like this.

For all its damp squib ending, we had a good race at Monaco, as we had had at Barcelona a week earlier. To me, these felt more like ‘normal’ Grands Prix, in the sense that the controversial DRS — the ‘moveable rear wing’ — played a far less significant role than at, say, Istanbul, where overtaking was so easy that it soon ceased to register much.

At Monaco, too, tyres were far less crucial. In Barcelona the difference between the two compounds was extreme, to the point that Alonso led the first 18 laps, yet by the end of the race was lapped, so hopeless was the Ferrari on the harder Pirellis.

In passing, Fernando’s fantastic start — from fourth on the grid — reminded me of the Austrian GP in 1979, when Gilles Villeneuve zig-zagged his Ferrari past the more powerful turbocharged Renaults and led the field away up the hill. Denis Jenkinson, sitting next to me in the old outdoor press stand, leaped to his feet and cheered…

Afterwards Gilles told me that he had known it was futile, that inevitably he would be picked off, but that still it had been necessary to do it for the sake of it. That was what a racing driver did, he insisted, and I don’t doubt that Fernando — particularly before his own people — was acting from the same instincts. Alonso will never be loved as Villeneuve was, but as racers the pair of them — relentless, on it every lap — have much in common. Natural Ferrari drivers, both.