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British Grand Prix at the City Winery

I watched the race at the City Winery in SoHo last weekend, and I really can’t say enough about what an excellent event that was. About two hundred of us hardcore F1 fans (and if you’re reading this somewhere other than the US, believe me when I tell you that was a number that impressed everyone involved) were welcomed into this restaurant — normally not open at 7:00 am, which is when we started turning up — and served coffee, drinks, and breakfast as we watched the race LIVE on large screens and were (crucially!) supplied with free WiFi. Wait, though — it gets better. What we were watching was the actual taping of the broadcast that would air on FOX later in the day for the rest of the country. Therefore, amazingly, we were actually addressed directly by Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, and Will Buxton, and we got to hear some of their unedited banter as they commented on the live race. The unadulterated freaking coolness of that cannot be overstated!

After the race, when everyone was still reeling from the team orders, er, incident that went down, we were shown a sizable clip from the Senna  documentary. A lot of people in the audience had already been lucky enough to see the movie — including me, twice (read my review here) — but it was a privilege to be treated to a piece of it again, enough to further whet our appetites for the movie’s official release here in the US in August (when we will all be taking our non-F1-fan friends to go see it, right? right?!).

So, although they are unlikely to read this, I really want to thank everyone involved in that entire event: Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, Will Buxton, and SpeedTV in general; the staff at the City Winery, at least some of whom had also worked the night before and were cheerful and helpful yet almost certainly exhausted; and the NYC meetup organizers, as well as those involved in distributing Senna here in the US, who I gathered had much to do with the whole event.

I was certainly left with mixed feelings about watching races with a bunch of other people in a bar, especially with the widespread (and eternally puzzling) loathing of Sebastian Vettel that’s so much in vogue these days. There sure were a hell of a lot of McLaren and Ferrari fans at this thing, not surprisingly, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard such a ferocious roar of joy as when the jack broke during that fateful pit stop.For maybe the hundredth time, I was left thinking, “Really? Is that how you want it to go down?” For many, apparently so. I actually heard one guy say, “I’ll take it any way I can get it!” and he’s clearly not alone there. Rather than seeing their guy triumph, they’re content to see their enemy meet random misfortune. Well, okay, then. Congratulations on that broken jack!

Not an easy thing to put up with, I have to say. If I’d been watching in my apartment, it might have been a bit better for my mental health. ;-)

I will freely admit, though, that Fernando Alonso thoroughly deserved that win. It’s not as though it was just that botched Red Bull pit stop that decided the race. The guy’s incredible; I’ve never for a moment tried to argue otherwise, and this race was a good illustration of why. Also, I think Seb is right to be concerned about Red Bull stepping up their game in light of this performance. Ferrari came with updates, and they sure did seem to be working well.

Now, if anyone reading this has read my past rants on team orders, you might be wondering when I’m going to come down on Red Bull like some sort of pissy fist of self-righteous rage. Well, the answer to that question is “now.” I hate team orders. I hate the thought of any situation existing in which racing drivers aren’t racing during a race. I think it sucks for pretty much everyone involved: for us, the fans; for the driver being ordered to, say, “maintain the gap”; for the driver supposedly benefiting  from said gap being maintained, whose skills at maintaining the gap himself are brought into question; to a lesser extent for the team, which ends up looking like a bunch of jerks to a hell of a lot of people; and for the sport, the planet, and the universe (because I say so).

I’ve heard and read many arguments on both sides with regard to what went down last Sunday, and I’m not so dumb that I can’t see the logic of each. Yes, yes, I get it. Yet if I were either driver, I, personally, would be very pissed. If I were Mark, I’d be thinking, “What the hell? I’m racing to effing win!” If I were Seb, I’d be thinking “What the hell? I don’t effing need you telling anyone to back off me!” And if you haven’t seen people slagging off on Seb over this mess as though it were somehow his fault and/or a reflection on his skills, I’d submit that you don’t read too many English F1 forums.

What I’ve learned from all this is that Red Bull Racing is not any different, not in any respect, from any other F1 team. Yes, there were those of us naively thinking otherwise, especially after statements like those Dietrich Mateschitz made late last season, about how he’d rather they lose the championship than use team orders. Well, maybe Mateschitz felt that way — and still feels that way — but Christian Horner clearly doesn’t. In spite of all the hue and cry about hypocrisy, I always got the distinct feeling that Horner’s objections were purely a matter of expediency — first because team orders were illegal, and then because his boss really didn’t care for them or the image they convey.

Still, I had believed that Horner and the rest of the team would be compelled to work within those philosophical confines, and that clearly is not the case. Mateschitz has expressed his approval of Webber’s actions, and I don’t know about what sort of talk went on between Mateschitz and Horner behind closed doors, but BOY would I like to. Maybe Mateschitz’s entire position is also one of pure expediency — projecting the image he wants for his brand — but even so, Horner sure did put a dent in it last weekend.

I’m left wondering what the Red Bull Racing fan ought to take away from this incident in terms of “team philosophy,” to the extent that such a thing can exist with any sort of integrity in F1. “We let our drivers race each other — under certain conditions!” Again: not different from any other team.

A final, slightly bothersome thread of this issue has been tied in a neat knot for me with Mark Webber’s clarification of his own position on team orders. He had been a fairly vocal supporter of Ferrari’s use of team orders in Hockenheim last season, and that had left me waiting for clarification — which has arrived with his most recent BBC column:

What made it difficult for me to accept was that it happened so close to the end of the race.

Over the years in F1, we have seen a number of situations when a team has asked one driver to let another by to ensure both their strategies work, for example.

Earlier in the race, there is still plenty to go on, and you are helping a guy who at that point of the race is quicker because of strategy or whatever.

But when you are coming to the line and you’ve only got five laps to go, there is no more strategy to be played out. It’s just a straight fight.

In other words, it comes down to a matter of timing. So late in the race, all that’s left — all that should be left — is a “straight fight.”

I think a lot of us want to see just that no matter what part of the race it is.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Robyn,
    I really enjoyed your post. I’m a Webber fan and this was a verrry interesting end of race (ahem). I’m still processing it, I think. I do love getting Webber’s thoughts weekly via the BBC Forum. It helps to get any kind of info whatsoever on what drivers are thinking.
    I comment a lot on Sidepodcast.com. It’s UK based and there are lots of great people over there. Please check it out if you haven’t already. Christine and Mr C run it and they’re great folks.
    I’m in Connecticut so if there are more events happening in the city I’d love to know about them. What’s the best place to get updates on what’s going on?
    Thanks!
    Kai
    @AndersFinn

    • Hi! :-)

      Thank you so much for reading! Yeah, frankly, I think I’m still processing the end of that race, too. More and more I’m realizing the folly of being a fan of any F1 *team*, as opposed to individual drivers. Live and learn, right?

      I like Sidepodcast a lot and definitely need to stop by there more often — and also to stop being so shy about commenting! I think I have a bad habit of commenting in F1 forums only when someone really irritates me. That’s no way to make friends! ;-)

      I get almost all my updates about stuff going on in the NYC area from people I follow on Twitter: @F1US is the essential person to follow, IMO; he really keeps on top of this stuff and gets the information out there (on his Facebook page, as well: http://www.facebook.com/F1USA). And of course @SENNAmovie and @asifkapadia are also good to follow for info on Senna-related events around here (and everywhere else). There was a free screening today in Brooklyn, for example, and there will be another screening on August 4 in SoHo.

      The Formula 1 in NYC group on Facebook also has information on various events, as well as meetups at bars for each grand prix:

      http://www.facebook.com/groups/formula1nyc

      Maybe we’ll run into each other sometime! :-)

  2. “So, although they are unlikely to read this, I really want to thank everyone involved in that entire event: Bob Varsha, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, Will Buxton, and SpeedTV in general”

    I’m the “in general” part, and I just read it! :)

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