If I knew that neither deputy editor Gordon Cruickshank nor features editor Simon Arron would read this, I’d probably opt for my one and only win in the 2013 Piaggio Ape World Championship as highlight of the year. While no one quite understood my Sebastian Vettel-like celebration – kneeling down in front of the Ape and praying after crossing the line – it was a small high in an otherwise useless racing career.
However, both Cruickshank and Arron are (maybe quite rightly) dubious of any motor sport that includes a three-wheeled, likely-to-tumble shopping cart. They say it’s not racing and laugh every time I bore them with photos from a racing weekend. A harsh, unsupportive office, this.
With that particular avenue closed, my highlight of 2013 was watching Vettel sealing the world championship in India. We all knew he’d do it sooner rather than later and, given his form at the time, it was almost certainly going to happen at the Buddh International Circuit.
The high point was not that he won the race from pole to secure the title in style. Rather, it came when he bypassed the pit entry after his cooling-down lap, instead continuing onto the pit straight to give the crowd a donut masterclass.
It was a wonderful gesture and one that, in this day of health and safety, will be remembered by witnesses for years to come. As if that were not enough, he then clambered from his Red Bull and ran to the debris fencing, over which he threw his gloves.
In MotoGP this sort of celebration happens on an almost weekly basis – motorbikes are easy to dismount, hand to a marshal and allow the rider to, say, jump into a lake. What’s more, ‘bike riders don’t face penalties for such outbursts of emotion. Red Bull, meanwhile, was fined €25,000 for not returning the car to parc fermé after the race.
It was a bill that team principal Christian Horner was happy to pay in light of what Vettel had just achieved. Happy to do so just the once, mind you – the following week Vettel did yet more donuts after winning again and it wasn’t long before Horner was on the radio saying “You can pay this time, Seb.” No rules were broken on this occasion because the car was returned to parc fermé.
The reason why we don’t see more of this sort of behaviour is because F1 cars are operating at the very edge of reliability – teams are allowed only eight engines per car throughout the season and can only change gearboxes every five races. Failure to adhere incurs either a 10- or five-place grid penalty. Donuts, historically, do not help a gearbox or engine’s lifespan.
We shouldn’t slam F1 for being too safety-conscious, though. Yes, it was great to see Webber hitch a lift on Alonso’s Ferrari in Singapore – and it wasn’t actually the lift that troubled stewards. It was the fact that Webber allegedly ignored marshals’ instructions while Alonso was almost hit by three other drivers after pulling up. But what if something had happened? F1 would be facing criticism from all directions. As it would if Webber had been injured while cruising back to the pits sans helmet in Brazil. It was a great way to say goodbye, though, so what’s to be done?
The biggest problem for me is that paying fans don’t get to see drivers’ characters. Yes, they get a brief interview on the podium, but no driver is going to say anything that interesting. After all, sponsors must be serviced at all times. For the rest of the race all the fans see is a flash of a driver’s helmet – and even then it’s hard to tell who is who, such is the rate at which designs change.
You could allow winners to celebrate on the pit straight after every race, but that might create more rules in a sport that has too many already…
Also, if the rules allowed drivers to celebrate properly, it would take the romance away from Vettel’s donuts and Webber’s farewell lap.
No doubt you’ve got some thoughts on this particular issue. Answers on a postcode, please: let’s see if we can make a small difference in a sport that requires big changes…