Sundays off at last

Murray Walker

What a great grand prix season. I can’t recall a better one in all the years I have been watching and commentating. We have had four drivers capable of winning the title, and a tremendous battle between McLaren and Ferrari. Plus, of course, the arrival of Lewis Hamilton.

On the subject of Lewis, let me say that what we have here is the right bloke in the right place, in the right car at the right time, and my God he’s exploited this situation quite brilliantly. He has comported himself with absolute dignity and friendliness: this young man is a credit to Formula 1 and I cannot imagine any other driver having had such a perfect CV for coming into F1. The bloke is a phenomenon, the like of which we have never seen before.

As for the season, much of the interest has been around those round black things called tyres. I see the downfall of Renault as being primarily caused by the team having to adjust to the Bridgestones but, having said that, neither McLaren nor BMW have suffered to the same degree. Certainly they miss Alonso, and his departure has adversely affected the team, particularly as Fisichella has again failed to come good. I think Giancarlo has reached the end of the road while Heikki Kovalainen has taken time to get up to speed in his first season.

While speaking of rookies, I have been very impressed by Anthony Davidson, a bloke I have got to know well since being a global ambassador for Honda and watching him as their test driver last year. I feel sorry for Anthony in that he hasn’t had the breaks that some others have had. I mean, he was beating Jenson Button in karting on occasion, and his qualifying in Turkey was an exceptional performance. But, like Jenson, he is a grand prix driver and that’s more than can be said for 99 per cent of racing drivers. There’s probably a bloke in Central Patagonia, or in the depths of China, who’s just as quick if only he had the chance to prove it.

It’s been a dreadful season for Jenson but I’ve been impressed by his commitment to the team: he’s a team player and he’s got years ahead of him. He’s won a grand prix – he knows how to do that – and if nothing else that will be a great memory for the rest of his life. Sadly, and it hurts me to have to say this, he is in a pretty bad car and going nowhere until next season. But he’s a bloody good driver, a great guy, and he has shown great fortitude and cheerfulness in the face of adversity this season. 

It’s interesting that, so far, we have had Hamilton ahead of Alonso and Massa ahead of Räikkönen. I’m not sure if it will stay this way but Kimi has not looked happy at Ferrari this year, has he? But then where would he be happy? You have to ask yourself whether Räikkönen would fit well into any team. He wasn’t the flavour of the month at McLaren, I gather, and you have to say that, while blindingly quick in the car, Kimi has something of a problem with his attitude. Also, he is denying Ferrari something they’ve had for many years  –  Michael Schumacher, a man who applied himself totally. It seems to me that Räikkönen simply doesn’t have this attitude. But it doesn’t stop him winning!

On the team front I have been very impressed with BMW. They clearly have the quickest car behind McLaren and Ferrari and I think Mario Theissen has delivered brilliantly on the promises he made to the BMW board when they took over at Sauber. They have thrown money at it and made improvements to an already excellent facility which includes a first-rate wind tunnel.

So who will win the 2007 World Championship? My gut feeling is that it will be Alonso. But anything can happen: a mechanic can drop a wheel nut in a pitstop and decide the result of the championship, it’s that close. But I think Alonso will pull ahead of Hamilton because of his experience. Because he has won two championships already, he knows how to get this done and experience will count as the season draws to an end. More importantly, his blood must be up. When he goes to bed at night he must, metaphorically, have a picture of Lewis Hamilton at the end of his bed and he must throw darts at it before he goes to sleep. We’ve seen it before with Prost and Senna, Mansell and Piquet. But anything can happen.

On Sunday afternoons I will be watching, of course. People always ask me if I shout and throw things at the telly when things go wrong. No, I don’t. I like to sit in the room alone because I don’t like people asking me questions. But I watch it just like everybody else. I regard myself as an ordinary viewer these days. I did the German Grand Prix for Radio 5 LIVE as a one-off while David Croft’s wife was having a baby, and of course I was on a hiding to nothing really. I mean, if it went well they’d say the bloke’s still got it, hasn’t he? And if it went badly they’d say well, the old fool is clearly past it and it’s a good thing he stopped. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do it, and it went very well. The BBC was pleased, and I had some nice comments from the public. But I won’t do it again – that’s it now. I’ve got away with it once and I’m not chancing my arm again.