Tempers frayed at Suzuka



Back-to-back races in Formula 1 at this stage of the season is tough for everyone. I am not expecting any sympathy and I do know how lucky we all are, travelling the world to watch an incredible sport that I would be watching at home anyway. All I mean is that after well over 17 weeks away from home, it’s easy to become tired and for tempers to fray.

I mentioned the love motels in Mokpo in my last column. Well, in Suzuka things are much less bizarre, apart from the room size. My wingspan meant I could touch all four walls from any point in my room and I couldn’t open my suitcase without it taking over the bed. The absence of any shelf or cupboard meant the suitcase needed to stay open as well… Anyway, my point is that my temper was easily tested, but it seemed that, despite much more plush sleeping arrangements, the drivers were feeling a little edgy too.

After the Grand Prix I spent a lot of time listening to 15 races of pent-up anger come out.

First came the Williams drivers. On the last lap Pastor Maldonado barged past team-mate Valtteri Bottas to mug 16th place off him. No points and no real point, but he was determined to pass. Maldonado claimed he did nothing wrong and was faster, Bottas said it was unacceptable and if he hadn’t gone off track then they would have crashed. Neither driver has been able to show his skill this season and the team has only scored one point, but rookie Bottas has out-qualified race winner Maldonado 9-6 and that must hurt the Venezuelan’s pride.

Next up came Rosberg and Pérez. Rosberg is often direct and outspoken while Pérez has history with… well, almost the whole grid. It does seem, though, that Rosberg was maybe a little too quick to criticise. Pérez applied no blame to either Nico or himself for the incident in which Rosberg got his front wing clipped and Pérez got a puncture. Rosberg, on the other hand, was smarting, saying, “we all know what Pérez is like”, and “it was perfect, he got a puncture and I got nothing!”

In amongst this chaos an ecstatic Esteban Gutiérrez was celebrating his first points in F1. He arrived at the interview pen, had a few chats and was halfway through answering my question when someone ran up to him shouting “scales, scales” and the Mexican had to run off to get weighed! He eventually came back smiling and continued to explain why he’s improved and how much he has been learning in his first season. It was the perfect time for a frustrated Rosberg to congratulate Gutiérrez, but to also fire a little shot across his bows, explaining – by the looks of his hand movements – to be careful about a move the Mexican had made. The Sauber driver gracefully accepted his lesson and continued his way round the interview area.

It is no surprise that things have become tense. It is at this time of year when many drivers are under pressure and have a limited number of races and, in some cases, laps in which to prove themselves. You can also factor in back-to-back races, jet lag and a crazy media schedule.

On Wednesday between Korea and heading to Suzuka, I spent an afternoon with Sebastian Vettel and an evening with Jenson Button filming for the BBC.

Vettel had been followed and filmed round Tokyo and then did an event for Infiniti to 500 fans at Nissan HQ in Yokohama. Button’s was a bit more intense although he described it as an “easy day when it comes to McLaren”.

In the three hours I spent with him there were four magazine interviews, a photo shoot, two personal appearances, several sponsor commitments, handing over an award at the Japan Motor Racing Hall of Fame, two clothing changes and a location change (although I did get to zoom off with him through the streets of Tokyo in a McLaren 12C so that wasn’t too bad).

A wise paddock owl always tells me, “never feel sorry for a Formula 1 driver. Never!”, when I discuss whether drivers deserve to lose their seat or when they are beaten up on by the media. The owl is right. Especially when they stay in hotel rooms big enough to open a suitcase and are definitely not sitting anywhere near me in economy as I write this!

On a sad note I do want to finish off by mentioning Maria di Villota who died last week. She was a wonderful girl with boundless energy and an impressive vigour for life both before and after her accident. In her short time in the paddock she made a big impression on many and I for one will miss her.

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