Witnessing 21 GP’s in a 37 week span has left me in a bit of a daze. Toss in 16 Indy car races and 18 MotoGP’s in the same time-frame, on top of the millions of bits of information being spewed out of my iPhone on a daily basis and it’s a recipe for a classic case of information overload. In an attempt to reminisce and pick out important moments that tell the story of F1 2016, I’m just seeing a streaming highlight reel of the lights going out and cars leaving starting grids, first corner melees, pitstops, DRS assisted passes, sparking skid plates, Max Verstappen, opposite lock, grid girls, Max Verstappen, Bernie’s face, Vettel temper tantrums, my wife giving me a dirty look, Max Verstappen, buzzards racing for a podium ceremony, Ricciardo drinking champagne from a boot, Massa waving a tearful goodbye while Verstappen goes by around the outside of somebody in the wet and finally, Rosberg celebrating the title. Seriously, what just happened there?
In the same 37 week span that Donald Trump pulled off the political shocker of a lifetime, Nico performed a minor miracle of his own by taking the fight to teammate Lewis Hamilton and winning the 2016 title. Similar to the Donald/Hillary battle, Hamilton won the popular vote with 10 wins to Nico’s 9, 17 podiums to Nico’s 16, and 12 poles to Nico’s 8, but Nico was the more consistent performer week in and out and had zero mechanical DNF’s while Lewis suffered one lone catastrophic engine failure while leading in Sepang. Lewis also had 3 qualifying mechanical issues and quickly went through his five engine allotment, causing him to take a mere 55 grid spot penalty at Spa and start dead last, gifting Nico a Sunday afternoon drive in the park. And then there were the multiple flubbed starts where Lewis looked like he was dragging an anchor as he struggled to find the bite point in his clutch.
Political Conspiracy Theory: Mercedes did swap crews before the beginning of the year and one has to wonder if this was the determining factor that tilt the balance of power in Nico’s favor.
Was there an unseen wave of discontent sweeping through the Mercedes garages among the rank and file employees over Lewis’s me-first antics and elitist celebrity lifestyle that we the fans were not aware of in our left leaning coastal enclaves? We may never know until Lewis writes his tell all memoir, but it made for an intriguing battle for the sport’s most coveted prize.
And then the fun really began. I’ll be honest, other than Max’s drive in Brazil and the Ricciardo/Max tussle in Malaysia for what ultimately led to the win, this was not a season for the ages. But when a world champion retires unexpectedly in late November, igniting a raging silly season debate, all is good in the F1 world again. So in the name of fun and games, here is my quick and dirty version of Nico’s Retirement Trickle Down Musical Chairs.
-Lewis needs a rapid partner, Merc wants a German, so Vettel comes on board
-Ferrari need an ace so they go buy out Ricciardo
-Red Bull want a constructors title so they grab Alonso
-McLaren need a #1 so they hire Bottas
-Williams then grab Perez claiming long term stability
-Causing Force India to go get Carlos Sainz Jr
-Toro Roso then grab Pascal Wehrlein
-And place Pierre Gasly with Manor
Damn I was hoping to include Renault, Haas and Sauber in this but it’s just not working out.
So here is my 2017 Grid:
Mercedes: Hamilton, Vettel
Red Bull: Max, Alonso
Ferrari: Ricciardo, Kimi
McLaren: Bottas, Vandoorne
Force India: Sainz Jr, Ocon
Williams: Perez, Stroll
Toro Roso: Wehrlein, Kvyat
Haas: Grosjean, Magnussen
Renault: Hulkenberg, Palmer
Sauber: Ericsson, Nasr
Manor: Gasly, LeClerc
Totally farcical, but you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t be counting the days to Melbourne if that was the new lineup.
One thing is for certain, there is new talent coming up through the ranks and the departures of Nico, JB and Massa are going to open doors for these new kids to show their stuff. In fact, there should be a new rule against a driver overstaying his useful life and keeping the new blood from moving up. At a certain point around 35, a driver really is just pounding around for dollars and doesn’t possess the same passion and fire that he (or she) had at 25. It’s human nature in any sporting endeavor.
So, the new rule is as follows:
No driver shall be able to participate in a F1 race over the age of 35 unless they have been granted a past champions extension. To be granted this extension, a past F1 World Champion can elect to continue racing for an additional season over the age of 35 for each championship that they have won. For instance, Alonso is 35 but has two titles so he can race to 37. Jenson Button at 36 just used his 1 year champions extension so he is timed out. Massa at 35 is also timed out. And I hate to say it, but Kimi at 37 is also one year past his expiration date.
Message to Massa and JB: Thanks for entertaining us for many years and a heartfelt congrats on all of your successes, now off to sports cars you go. I hope to see you piloting a Ferrari GT or prototype machine a track near me soon.
Now back to the subject of Nico deciding to turn in his gloves after finally reaching the pinnacle at the relatively young age of 31. There has been plenty of speculation, but in my opinion it sounds like he sold his soul to beat Lewis and just doesn’t have it in him to dig that deep again. Fair enough, champions seldom repeat in any sport and F1 drivers are no different. Here then, is a look back at how a few noteworthy past champions defended or headed for the hills following a title run (from 1981-Present):
1981 – 1982: To close out the ‘81 season, Nelson Piquet in a Brabham snatched the title from Carlos Reutemann and Jacques Laffitte at the final round in the parking lot of Caesars Palace. The next season, Brabham switched from a Cosworth V-8 to a BMW Turbo powerplant and Mr Piquet, not keen on being a test mule, finished a lowly 11th in the championship.
1984 – 1985: In the ‘84 season Niki Lauda clearly tempted the law of averages to beat Alain Prost by ½ point for the title, because in ‘85, Prost won the title and outscored Lauda 73-14. Note- Lauda was 36 years old during the ‘85 season. Note II: Former 1980 world champion, Alan Jones, came out of retirement with a solid Fosters beer belly to drive around in the original Haas F1 team.
1987 – 1988: Nelson Piquet won the ‘87 title after two seasons of insane psychological warfare with teammate Nigel Mansell and decided to bolt for Team Camel Lotus and teammate Satoru Nakajima. In ‘88 Piquet drove for dollars to 6th in the championship, just ahead of Ivan Capelli and Derek Warwick.
1992 – 1993: Ah the glory days of bizarre behavior and driver feuds! Nigel Mansell blitzed the field in ‘92 in the potent Williams FW14B and then decided to leave F1 altogether for CART!! Alain Prost, who was fired by Ferrari near the end of the ‘91 season and sat out ‘92, was drafted in to continue the Williams dominance with Damon Hill as his teammate and won the title in his sleep. And to top it off, Prost then retired for good with his 4th title to make way for Ayrton at Williams in ‘94. ‘93 Fun flashback – Ayrton was partnered by Michael Andretti for 13 rounds with an under-powered Cosworth V-8 and a young lad named Schumacher won his first GP in Estoril.
1995 – 1996 – 1997: After winning the ‘94 and ‘95 titles for Benetton, Schumacher left the team to restore glory to a Ferrari team in disarray. This opened the door for Damon Hill to beat his rookie teammate Jacques Villeneuve to the ‘96 title while Schumi finished 3rd, some 40 plus points behind Hill. Damon Hill then couldn’t put together a deal with Williams to defend his title so he spent the ‘97 season plunking around in a Arrows-Yamaha and finished a lowly 12th in points!
Mika Hakkinen: After striking a deal with Ukko, the Mythical Finnish God of the sky, weather and crops, to win the ‘98 and ‘99 titles over Schumacher and finishing a fighting 2nd to Schumi in 2000, Mika lost the fire in 2001 and hung up his helmet at the end of the season. Age – 33. Perhaps Mika accelerated his motivational curve by 2-3 years due to too many years of being sponsored by Marlboro and West?
Michael Schumacher: After rewriting the record book at Ferrari, Michael was defeated by a young Alonso in 2005 and 2006 and decided to go play with motorcycles. Note: In 2005, Michael Schumacher was 36 years old! And of course then the crazy SOB came back at 41 to take on Rosberg at Mercedes for 3 years. (But then again Michael did qualify for 7 extra years of racing due to his 7 titles!)
Alright enough with the history lesson. We know that Kimi won a title at Ferrari and the following year was no match for Massa. The lesson here is Nico is not unique to running out of motivation. It’s happens, and good on him to get out while he’s on top. It must burn Hamilton to know that he isn’t going to get the opportunity for revenge.
The question of the day is: Will Nico be able to stay away for good as he has indicated? Changing diapers and hanging out with the wife is great and all, but to go from F1 hero to domestic dad in a week will be a shocker. Especially when Ferrari may be looking for a Kimi replacement at the end of next season. Like many before him, he may have to ease into this retirement business with the DTM or a LeMans program. Then again who knows, I saw him trying to lead the Tifosi through ‘Seven Nation Army’ on the podium this year so maybe he has the German pop charts next in his sights?
Well Happy Holidays and here’s to hoping that 2017 will bring about another golden era of the sport. The driving talent is there and the new cars look pretty awesome on paper, so let the design race begin and bring on Melbourne.
And a shout out to Simon Pagenaud, Marc Marquez, and Jimmy Johnson for taking care of business.