The talented few of motorised sport

by Rob Widdows on 6th October 2008

I’ve been thinking. Well, you need some thinking time when the editor is asking for a couple of blogs each week, preferably opinionated. A little humour is also allowed, maybe taking us down a track other than that of the racing variety.

Anyway, where was I? Yes. What an extraordinary century this has been for the truly, deeply talented few of motorised sport.

I am referring of course to Michael Schumacher, Valentino Rossi and Sebastien Loeb.

The latter two are too often described as the Schumachers of motorcycle racing and rallying. Mr Schumacher might just as easily be described as the Rossi, or the Loeb, of motor racing.

The first decade of the new millennium has been dominated by these three men, all of them supreme masters of their disciplines. Sure, you can argue that they have had use of the very best equipment, but the fastest machine does not always a champion make.

Getting into, or onto, the best machine is all part of the job. Moulding a team around you is another piece of the puzzle. Not having too much competition from your team-mate can also be useful, as in the case of the Ferrari driver. Some say he was never consistently challenged. I think Messrs Hill, Hakkinen and Alonso might have a word to say about that.

But I digress. Sebastien Loeb appears to be unstoppable, his victory in Spain bringing the Frenchman to the brink of yet another world championship. And the next rally is his home event. Only his team-mate could get anywhere near him in Catalunya. He makes it all look so easy. That is the trademark of the truly, deeply talented. Think of Alain Prost, and his seemingly effortless progress at the head of a Grand Prix field.

There is much talk, these days, of money and budgets when it comes to sporting prowess. You know the kind of thing – Chelsea FC only won the English Premiership football title because they had the biggest pile of cash, Ferrari only won all those titles with Schumacher because they had the biggest budget, and on it goes. It’s worth remembering that Chelsea had the money from the start but took years to win the title while Ferrari had not won a championship for twenty years when Schumacher came along.

It is, for once, not about the money. It is about talent and application, possibly in equal shares. One is no use without the other. What Sebastien Loeb achieved in Spain at the weekend, like Rossi the previous weekend, and like Schumacher between 2000 and 2004, simply sets them apart from the rest. You either got it or you ain’t, as some say. Again, we salute a quite extraordinary achievement.

Speaking of achievement, what about Allan McNish and the Audi team at Road Atlanta? Now this was utterly unbelievable, one of those moments in sport that us fans will talk about for years to come. When the Petit Le Mans race got underway, the Audi R10 of McNish/Capello/Pirro was still in pieces in the garage, McNish having crashed the car on the recce laps an hour before the start. I know, it’s a script you could not imagine.

Joining the race two laps down, the Audi trio set about hauling in the leading Peugeot, not to mention passing everybody else at least twice. In his final stint McNish, presumably well pumped up after his earlier mistake, proceeded to the front of the field to beat the lone Peugeot in an incredible sprint over the last thirty laps or so. A truly incredible result and a tribute to the team. It’s been a very good year for Audi while Peugeot have much work to do over the winter.

There is no substitute for talent and the unremitting application of same. Which is why, in the end, I think a British driver will win the F1 world championship for the first time since 1996. Meanwhile, I am having a scheduled pit stop this week, to remove something unpronounceable from the palm of my right hand. I am told I will not be able to type for a couple of weeks after the surgery. I will, however, dictate responses to those of you who clearly demand a further explanation of weekly ramblings.

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